The disappearance of the mum-of-two, 45, caused a frenzy of speculation on TikTok (Picture: PA)
Mum-of-two Nicola, 45, was found dead in the River Wyre, in Lancashire, on February 19 this year.
She had vanished while walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre on January 27.
Her disappearance caused a frenzy of speculation on TikTok, with videos containing the hashtag of her name receiving 270 million views.
Social media users decided to get involved with the search themselves and Lancashire Police logged more than 500 media calls and 75,000 inbound social media comments about the case.
The review, published today, revealed the force had lost control of the public narrative at an early stage, despite handling the missing person investigation well.
The 143-page report from the College of Policing, which offers 17 recommendations, says there were errors of judgment from senior officers who ‘observed but did not act’, and questions the culture of the force.
Nicola Bulley was found dead in the River Wyre, in Lancashire, on February 19 this year (Picture: PA)
The report said the public release of her personal information was ‘avoidable and unnecessary’ (Picture: PA)
Police failed to brief the media effectively because trust between officers and outlets had broken down, which led to an ‘information vacuum and unchecked speculation’.
Wild speculation online about what had happened to Nicola caused huge pressure on Lancashire Police.
The review found as a result of the levels of public confidence falling, a critical incident should have been declared.
Instead information about Nicola’s difficulties with the menopause were disclosed amid questions over medical factors.
The report said non-reportable background briefings should have only been given for context, and the public release of her personal information was ‘avoidable and unnecessary’.
Chief constable Andy Marsh, who leads the College of Policing, said: ‘Throughout our work we have had Nicola’s family and friends in our thoughts.
‘The purpose of the review was not to attribute blame but identify areas of learning for the constabulary and wider policing.
Wild speculation online about what had happened to Nicola caused huge pressure on Lancashire Police (Picture: PA)
The report said the relationship between police and the media has become fractured and needs to be rebuilt (Picture: PA)
‘While we have not shied away from criticism, there are also many areas of Lancashire Constabulary’s response that should be commended, including an exemplary investigation and a well-conducted search.
‘At the heart of the investigation was Nicola. I am left in no doubt that she and her family were foremost in the minds of officers and staff throughout the search.’
An inquest ruled in June that Nicola’s death was an accident and she died of cold water shock after falling into the river.
The report said the relationship between police and the media has become fractured, and must be rebuilt.
Dr Iain Raphael, who led the review, said: ‘A professional, trusted, and appropriate working relationship between the police and the media is vital for public confidence.
‘The report makes clear that without this, speculation can run unchecked and result in an extraordinary explosion of media and public interest in the case.
‘Policing must also recognise the impact social media now has.
‘Ultimately, police should seek to be the first with the truth and ensure the public has access to accurate and authoritative information when it is most needed.’
Deputy chief constable Sacha Hatchett from Lancashire Police said: ‘That media demand was at times overwhelming, and with the benefit of hindsight, there are undoubtedly things we would do differently in the future. Indeed, we have already started to do so.
‘There is no doubt that the impact of social media, as experienced in this case, is an area of concern for policing generally which requires more focus in the future.
‘It had a detrimental effect on the family, the investigation, and our staff along with influencing wider media reporting.’
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