A body found in the River Wyre has been formally identified as missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley, police have said.
The 45-year-old mortgage adviser was last seen on Friday 27 January while walking on a footpath by the river in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.
On Sunday, police recovered a body from the river, near to where Ms Bulley went missing, following an intensive three-week search operation.
Lancashire Police have now confirmed that the body is that of Ms Bulley.
“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,” Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson told a news conference.
“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,” he added.
“We would like to thank all of those who have helped during what has been a hugely complex and highly emotional investigation.”
The family said in a statement read by police that the formal identification confirmed “our worst fears”.
“We will never be able to comprehend what Nikki had gone through in her last moments and that will never leave us,” the family said.
“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 family questioned the role of the press and members of the public who “accused their dad of wrongdoing, misquoted and vilified friends and family”.
They also criticised Sky News and ITV for “making contact with us directly when we expressly asked for privacy”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the news that Ms Bulley’s body had been found was “devastating”.
“My heart goes out to Nicola’s partner, children, family and friends,” he said.
It is understood that a man and a woman walking their dog near to the river called the police on Sunday after seeing a person in the water, with officers then launching a search.
Ms Bulley was walking her dog, Willow, when she was last seen more than three weeks ago.
The springer spaniel was found shortly after, along with Ms Bulley’s mobile phone, which was discovered on a bench beside a steep riverbank.
The phone was still connected to a work conference call.
Police said Ms Bulley had suffered “significant issues with alcohol” which had been brought on by “ongoing struggles with the menopause”.
The revelation of such personal information sparked criticism from many, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, but Ms Bulley’s family said they were “aware beforehand that Lancashire Police released a statement with some personal details about our Nikki”.
The home secretary said she will see what Lancashire Police’s own inquiries “come back with” when asked if there would be an external review into the force’s handling of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
Suella Braverman said she was not “wholly satisfied” with responses given by the chief constable when she asked for an explanation as to why some of Ms Bulley’s personal details were released to the public.