Some of underwater search expert Peter Faulding’s behaviour “caused challenges” to the police search for Nicola Bulley, a review has claimed.
Peter Faulding, leader of underwater search experts Specialist Group International (SGI), told media during the search that police had “low-tech” diving equipment and were unlikely to find a body.
When Ms Bulley’s family became aware of his claims, efforts were made to contact SGI and to ask Lancashire Constabulary to involve the firm.
But police investigators were advised that SGI did not have any better equipment, the report, led by the College of Policing, claims.
A review into the investigation – which criticised police for revealing Ms Bulley’s personal information – concluded his actions created a more “challenging environment” for investigators.
“It is the view of Lancashire Constabulary that Mr Faulding had a significant impact on the investigation and public confidence through his activities and his engagement with the media,” the report states.
“The review team considers that some of his actions created a more challenging environment for the investigation team.
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“His public statements often contradicted the investigative and operational approach, leading to confusion for the public and reducing the family’s trust in the investigation and search operation.”
Mr Faulding has since told Sky News “something’s not right here” and maintains he found Ms Bulley before police did.
Police’s ‘unenviable situation’
The review added a family friend of Ms Bulley expressed to police a “strong message that refusal to use Mr Faulding and SGI” would result in a “negative press release to the media”.
Lancashire Constabulary felt it was placed in an unenviable situation, the report said, which would lead to a negative perception the force was not using every chance to locate Ms Bulley.
The force felt this would undermine public trust and subsequently agreed to allow the use of SGI to support them and contacted Mr Faulding, who offered his services free of charge.
A chief inspector then met Mr Faulding to offer “suitable, robust advice about the information he is passing to the media – unhelpful to the investigation, the family and wider community”.
Lancashire Police appeared to present him with a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) not to discuss the search with anyone outside the investigation, the report added.
But SGI said no “official” NDA had been discussed or signed and Mr Faulding and his team felt “ambushed” by the press and had no support from police.
Disagreements over media statements
Mr Faulding told the report authors he was not advised or supported with any media guidance by the force – and that he did not receive any instruction not to engage with press.
The report said Mr Faulding had also told Ms Bulley’s family that he believed he had identified a location site of a body.
As part of the review, Lancashire Constabulary suggested this caused distress and false alarm and forced police to divert resources to the family.
The chief executive of the College of Policing, Chief Constable Andy Marsh, said the report “factually lays out the impact” of Mr Faulding’s involvement.
“His interactions with the media weren’t coordinated with constabulary media releases and it certainly led to complications and challenges for the force,” he said in a briefing after the report’s publication.
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He added that he understands Mr Faulding has been removed from a list of experts compiled by the National Crime Agency, which police consult.
Speaking to Sky News’s Martin Brunt after the report’s findings were made public, Mr Faulding said he has been taken off the list “for no reason” and insisted the body could have been found sooner.
“Well, I’ve had my reputation damaged now,” he said.
“I was publicly discredited and I want the public to know that – not knocking the police here and other forces I work with – but something’s not right here.”
He added: “And this is, without a doubt, Nicola. If we’d done the job properly on day one, if it was done properly with the right expertise, Nicola would have been found.”