LONDON — It has been three weeks since Nicola Bulley, a 45-year-old mother of two, disappeared while walking her dog in a field in northern England, a case that has drawn national news coverage, as well as widespread speculation online that has been criticized by both the police and Ms. Bulley’s family.
The authorities have said that they believe Ms. Bulley fell into a nearby river, and that there is no evidence of foul play.
This week, the police faced a backlash after disclosing personal details about Ms. Bulley, including that she had struggled with alcohol and menopause before her disappearance. Although they said they released the information in order to explain why she was determined to be at high risk, critics, including members of Parliament, have questioned how such details would help find her.
Here is a timeline of the case so far.
Ms. Bulley is reported missing.
After dropping her two daughters off at school, Ms. Bulley was last seen on the morning of Jan. 27 as she was walking her dog along a path near a river in St. Michael’s on Wyre, a village in northern England, about 45 miles northwest of Manchester.
The dog, along with her cellphone, were later found close to where she was last seen. Ms. Bulley, who worked as a mortgage adviser, had logged into a conference call, remaining on mute with her video off, the police said. The call had ended, but the phone was still logged in when it was found on a bench.
The Lancashire Police issued a brief statement later that day, asking for the public’s help finding Ms. Bulley, whom they described as a 5-foot-3 white woman, wearing a black jacket, jeans and green ankle boots.
‘The girls are desperate to have their mummy back home,’ the family says.
Four days after Ms. Bulley’s disappearance, her family released a statement thanking the community for its overwhelming support.
“The girls are desperate to have their mummy back home safe with them and your ongoing efforts have provided comfort to them whilst we await news on Nicola,” the statement said.
Investigators believe she fell into the river.
A week into the investigation, the police said that Ms. Bulley had remained in the field where she was last seen and had fallen into the River Wyre, which they had searched. While the authorities did not explain how they arrived at their hypothesis, they said there was no evidence to suggest anything suspicious about her disappearance or any third-party involvement.
The police warn against online rumors.
As part of their investigation, the police said they had spoken to numerous witnesses, analyzed Ms. Bulley’s phone and Fitbit, and searched a run-down home and empty vehicles near where she disappeared. Specialist Group International, an underwater search organization, joined efforts to comb the river.
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The police also said the intense speculation about the case on social media was “both unhelpful to the investigation and, more importantly, hurtful for the family.”
Ms. Bulley’s partner, Paul Ansell, said in a statement, “This has been such a tough time for the girls especially, but also for me and all of Nicola’s family and friends.”
The police say conspiracy theories ‘must stop.’
Two weeks into their investigation, the authorities said they had still found no evidence to suggest that Ms. Bulley was the victim of foul play.
“We also continue to see a huge amount of commentary from so-called experts, ill-informed speculation and conspiracy theories which is damaging to the investigation, the community of St Michael’s and, worst of all, to Nicola’s family,” the police said. “It must stop.”
Two days earlier, the police issued two dispersal orders after receiving reports of people filming on social media near where Ms. Bulley disappeared.
In an interview, Ms. Bulley’s partner expresses disbelief.
In an interview with Channel 5, Mr. Ansell said he was staying strong for his daughters and continued to reassure them with the little information he had.
“Nothing feels real,” he said.
After the extensive searches of the area, Mr. Ansell said he did not believe that Ms. Bulley was in the river.
“I’m 100 percent convinced it’s not the river,” he said. “People don’t just vanish into thin air. It’s absolutely impossible.”
The police reveal personal details about Ms. Bulley.
Based on interviews with Ms. Bulley’s family immediately after her disappearance, the police said that she had previously “suffered with some significant issues with alcohol” that were brought on by her “struggles” with menopause.
The authorities said it was an “unusual step” to release details about a person’s private life but felt compelled to clarify why they had considered Ms. Bulley at high risk.
They also said they had responded to a welfare call at Ms. Bulley’s home two weeks before she disappeared. No one was arrested, but the incident remained under investigation, the police said.
A backlash greets the release of Ms. Bulley’s health information.
Critics, including members of Parliament, immediately questioned the decision by the police to release Ms. Bulley’s personal information.
Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch, a British civil liberties and privacy campaigning organization, said on Twitter that the disclosure was a “serious” invasion of Ms. Bulley’s privacy.
On Friday, Britain’s independent data privacy authority said that it would ask the Lancashire Police to explain the reason for releasing the information.
Ms. Bulley’s family says they knew her details would be released.
In a statement almost three weeks after her disappearance, Ms. Bulley’s family said they had known that the police would release details about her health and that they believed the public focus had shifted from finding her to rumors about her private life.
“Although we know that Nikki would not have wanted this, there are people out there speculating and threatening to sell stories about her,” the family said. “This is appalling and needs to stop.”
They also said that Ms. Bulley had begun hormone replacement therapy in order to treat conditions associated with perimenopause. But because the medication gave her headaches, she stopped taking it, which they believe contributed to her disappearance.