- Written by Adam Durbin and Sean Seddon
- BBC News
Nicola Polley’s partner has spoken of his family’s pain after a body was found in the river near where she disappeared three weeks ago.
Lady Polly has gone missing while walking her dog at St Michael’s in Weyre in Lancashire, sparking a massive search operation.
On Sunday, Lancashire Police said they had “unfortunately recovered a body” from the water after being called to the River Weary.
A statement said official identification had not yet been made “so we cannot say” if it was her at the time.
The death is currently being treated as “unexplained” and officers have begun the process of identifying the body.
But Lancashire Police also said Ms Polley’s family had “been made aware of the developments and our thoughts are with them in these difficult times”.
In his statement to Sky, Ansell added: “We are all together, we must be strong.”
Former Lancashire Chief Constable Bob Eastwood defended the force investigation amid an “utter onslaught” of criticism.
Asked how a body could be found a mile from Mrs Polly’s last known location – despite an extensive search of the river – he told BBC Breakfast the river was flowing fast.
“The way the tides come in… it is possible that the body has flowed in and flowed out and has finally been abandoned by the water,” he said.
“Jumping in…and automatically assuming the body was there the whole time is a step too far.”
He said Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith, the investigating officer in the case, was subjected to misogynistic abuse during a three-week search that attracted national attention.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Eastwood also accused “alleged specialists” of imposing themselves on the investigation and Ms Polley’s family.
They have “fueled a lot of people’s obsessions,” he said, adding, “I hope their consciences are in overdrive right now.”
Polly, who worked as a mortgage advisor, was last seen walking her spring spaniel Willow after dropping off her two daughters, ages six and nine, at school on January 27.
Her dog was found shortly after, along with her phone — still connected to a work conference call — on a bench on a steep river bank.
Police said earlier that they believed the 45-year-old had gone to the river and that her disappearance was not suspicious.
The body was found about a mile from where it was last seen in the hamlet of St Michael’s in Wyre. It is understood that two people who were walking their dogs near the river spotted the body and alerted the police.
The fact that the body — which has never been officially identified as Nicola Poli — was found less than a mile from where she disappeared raises a lot of questions. Specifically, why did it take three weeks?
People will now wonder if the search was handled properly, which comes on top of the great focus placed on the manner in which Lancashire Police conducted this investigation.
Since Mrs. Polly’s disappearance, the police said she was in the river. They seemed very confident about it from the start, despite some of the family’s misgivings about their guilt.
How is it then, after all these intense searches and the police saying her whereabouts, her body was likely so close? It should be noted that this river is not massive – it is a large stream in parts.
At the heart of this investigation is the question of how the police dealt with a woman’s disappearance – specifically the information they shared about her with the public and her ability to deal with a spotlight that suddenly arrived in Lancashire.
Peter Faulding, the independent search expert who was called in by the Polley family, had previously expressed doubts about the police theory that she had gone to that part of the river.
In a statement released via his company Specialist Group International, Folding defended his involvement after a three-day search using sonar technology failed to find a body.
Downstream, where the find was reported, the reeds were “not part of our purview” because the equipment his team used is not effective for vegetation, he said.
The research has attracted a lot of interest, with a large number of people visiting and photographing the area – as well as loads of various unsubstantiated speculation and theories being circulated on social media.
The combination of the sheer number of people turning up in the hamlet and online speculation led to police issuing distraction notices and warnings about antisocial behaviour.
One influencer was arrested and fined after posting that he was in “people’s backyards at night with torches,” while two others were arrested after sending malicious messages to members of the Diocese Council about the issue.
Julie Mackay, a former Det Superintendent with Avon and Somerset Police, told BBC News that “armchair detectives” driven by a “thirst for true crime” had made the operation more difficult for the police and the Polley family.
She acknowledged that some people have a “genuine desire to help” but criticized those who are motivated by their “satisfying, self-promotional or even narcissistic approaches”.
In a sign of the high levels of attention being given to the case, the Lancashire Police investigation also faced a backlash after revelations about Ms Polley’s struggle with menopause and alcohol, which they said was to “avoid any further speculation”.
Polley’s family said they knew the police were revealing the details as there were “people speculating and threatening to sell stories about her”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt and Home Secretary Soyla Braverman expressed concerns about the police statement, after which Lancashire Police announced they would carry out an internal review into their investigation.
Ms Braverman reiterated her concerns about the decision on Monday but said “it is a matter for the police themselves” and that she would refrain from issuing an additional ruling pending review.
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