The family of Nicola Bulley have said they can let the mother of two “rest now”, as questions linger over why it took more than three weeks for her body to be discovered.
Ms Bulley’s body was pulled from the River Wyre in Lancashire on Sunday after the 45-year-old was last seen on January 27.
She had been walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre after dropping her daughters, aged six and nine, at school.
Lancashire Police called a press conference on Monday, where the force did not address the widespread criticism it had received for releasing some aspects of Ms Bulley’s private life into the public domain.
Speaking at the force’s HQ, Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson did confirm the body had been identified as Ms Bulley – and described the investigation as “hugely complex and highly emotional”.
He did not take questions from the media present.
Ms Bulley’s family also paid tribute to the 45-year-old in a statement read by the force’s head of crime Detective Chief Superintendent Pauline Stables, where they said: “We love you, always have and always will.”
The statement read: “Our family liaison officers have had to confirm our worst fears today.
“We will never be able to comprehend what Nikki had gone through in her last moments and that will never leave us.
“We will never forget Nikki, how could we, she was the centre of our world, she was the one who made our lives so special and nothing will cast a shadow over that.
“Our girls will get the support they need from the people who love them the most.”
“The community support in St Michael’s, friends, neighbours and strangers has been nothing short of comforting and heart-warming. Friends you know who you are. Thank you.
“Our hearts truly break for others who have missing loved ones. Keep that hope alive.
“Finally, Nikki, you are no longer a missing person, you have been found, we can let you rest now.
“We love you, always have and always will, we’ll take it from here.”
The family also questioned the role of the press during the investigation and accused the media of “misquoting and vilifying” Ms Bulley’s partner, relatives and friends.
“It saddens us to think that one day we will have to explain to them (Ms Bulley’s children) that the press and members of the public accused their dad of wrongdoing, misquoted and vilified friends and family,” the statement said.
“This is absolutely appalling, they have to be held accountable. This cannot happen to another family.
Ms Bulley’s body was found on a stretch of the river just past a slight bend, a mile or so outside the village, close to where a tree had fallen on its side half in and half outside the water, with branches and undergrowth partially submerged.
It is understood that a man and a woman discovered the body and called police – who said they were called to the River Wyre close to Rawcliffe Road at around 11.35am on Sunday.
Police had erected a tent and cordoned off the lane while police divers were called in, but the road was reopened around three hours later once the body was recovered.
In his statement confirming Ms Bulley’s body had been identified, ACC Lawson said: “We recognise the huge impact that Nicola’s disappearance has had on her family and friends, but also on the people of St Michael’s.
“We would like to thank all of those who have helped during what has been a hugely complex and highly emotional investigation.
“Today’s development is not the outcome any of us would have wanted, but we hope that it can at least start to provide some answers for Nicola’s loved ones, who remain foremost in our thoughts.
“The case is now being handled by HM Coroner.”
In a press conference on Wednesday, they revealed she was classed as a “high-risk” missing person immediately after Mr Ansell reported her disappearance, “based on a number of specific vulnerabilities”.
They later added in a statement that Ms Bulley, from Inskip in Lancashire, had stopped taking her HRT medication.
A public backlash and interventions from the Government and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper followed, with Lancashire Constabulary confirming a date had been set for an internal review into the investigation.