“Tragic” missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley fell into a river while walking her dog, police believe.
Ms Bulley, 45, might have been trying to deal with an “issue” with her springer spaniel Willow, causing her to go to the edge of the River Wyre and into the water, the officer in charge of the missing person investigation said.
Ms Bulley’s heartbroken family and friends had made desperate pleas for information during the week-long hunt after she vanished.
Minutes before, she had dropped her daughters – aged six and nine – at the local school in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, last Friday morning.
But in a 10-minute window between her last being seen and from police tracing telephony records of her mobile phone not leaving the bench it was placed on overlooking the river, at 9.20am, officers believe she may have fallen into the river.
Ms Riley said: “Our main working hypothesis is that Nicola has suddenly fallen into the river, that there’s no third party or criminal involvement, and that this is not suspicious but a tragic case of a missing person.
“This is particularly important because speculation otherwise can be really distressing for the family and for Nicola’s children.”
Ms Riley continued: “I don’t wish to speculate, in that we don’t know, but it is possible as the dog was loose and off the lead.
“There may have been an issue with the dog that led her to the water’s edge, she puts her phone down to go and deal with the dog momentarily, and Nicola may have fallen in.
“We assume the dog didn’t get into the river, but we don’t know why Nicola may have if she did.”
The officer said a massive amount of police resources had been used to search the surface and under the water of the river and surrounding farmland – including divers, drones and helicopters.
And after tracing local CCTV, dashcam and doorbell camera footage, police are confident Ms Bulley did not leave the area near the river.
Ms Bulley’s neighbours, friends and local community had carried out searches of the area and appealed for information on possible sightings that would bring a “glimmer of hope.”
Ms Bulley’s sister, Louise Cunningham, had said, “people don’t just vanish into thin air”, and her tearful father Ernie Bulley said Nicola’s young daughters still believed it is “only a matter of time” before their mother comes home.
Friends of the family said Ms Bulley’s daughters had been asking: “Where’s Mummy? How is Mummy?”
Earlier on Friday, her partner Paul Ansell, 44, said he would “never lose hope” of finding her.
Police vowed to continue the search for Ms Bulley, to “bring her home”.
They have urged the public to look out along the river for the items of clothing that Ms Bulley was last seen wearing, including an ankle-length black quilted gilet jacket, a black Engelbert Strauss waist-length coat, tight-fitting black jeans, long green walking socks, ankle-length green Next wellies, a necklace and a pale blue Fitbit.