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Campaigner attacks 'disgusting' MailOnline coverage of Nicola Bulley family statement

Undated family handout file photo issued by Lancashire Police of missing woman Nicola Bulley, 45, who was last seen on the morning of Friday January 27, when she was spotted walking her dog on a footpath by the River Wyre near to St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire. A body has been found in the River Wyre close to where Nicola Bulley went missing, Lancashire Police said. Issue date: Sunday February 19, 2023.
The disappearance of Nicola Bulley on 27 January quickly became a media frenzy. (PA/Family handout)

A press standards campaigner has branded the MailOnline "disgusting" after it edited out criticism of newspapers from a statement by Nicola Bulley's family.

After police confirmed that a body found in the river on Sunday belonged to the missing dog walker, her relatives criticised the media's "intrusive" coverage during the search in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire.

The family singled out Sky News and ITV for making contact with them when they "expressly asked for privacy".

In a swipe at the media in general, they said: "They again, have taken it upon themselves to run stories about us to sell papers and increase their own profits. It is shameful they have acted in this way. Leave us alone now.

"Do the press and other media channels and so called professionals not know when to stop? These are our lives and our children's lives."

Both Sky News and ITV appeared to exclude references to their channels in parts of their coverage, but mentioned it in some instances.

Read more: Nicola Bulley: What happens next?

In a report on the MailOnline, sections of the statement were omitted including the family's reference to "selling papers", and "so called professionals" not knowing "when to stop".

The site since has since added the reference to selling newspapers back into its story.

WayBack Machine - an internet archive showing old versions of webpages - shows it wasn't included initially.

The live article now includes a clarification, reading: "Following publication this story has been updated to correct an omission in the quote from the family’s statement which should have read: ‘They again, have taken it upon themselves to run stories about us to sell papers and increase their own profiles.’

"The story also included an edited version of the video of the family’s statement. It has now been updated with the full video including criticism of the media."

Dr Evan Harris, former director of press accountability campaign group Hacked Off, highlighted the coverage on his Twitter profile, calling MailOnline "disgusting" and "shameful" for "deliberately" omitting criticism of newspapers.

He later tweeted: "Look like MailOnline have reversed ferreted and undone their doctoring of the Bulley family quote on press conduct. Compare the latest copy with the 10:05 version."

Appearing on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday morning, the former Liberal Democrat MP said: "The video of the press conference of the police on the MailOnline website leaves out any criticism of the media."

Watch: Police confirm that body found in River Wyre belongs to missing dog walker Nicola Bulley

Dr Harris criticised the Independent Press Standards Organisation for never issuing "any sanction or fine" since its founding in 2014, and for never demanding a front page correction for a front page story.

"That means there's impunity effectively, we saw this with Grenfell, we saw this with the Manchester Arena bombing. Every time there is a tragedy like this, there is criticism of the newspapers and nothing happens," he said.

"Will we hear a politician get off their knees to attack the power of the press and their abuse of ordinary people? I doubt it."

Yahoo News has contacted MailOnline for comment.

Read more: Nicola Bulley family statement in full: Angry relatives hit out at 'appalling' press and public

Only two national newspapers, the Guardian and The i, featured the family's criticism of the media on their front pages.

Even then, Dr Harris criticised The i for specifically referring to "TV crews and social media" in its headline, writing: "This headline is a gross distortion.

Undated family handout file photo issued by Lancashire Police of missing woman Nicola Bulley, 45, who was last seen on the morning of Friday January 27, when she was spotted walking her dog on a footpath by the River Wyre near to St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire. A body has been found in the River Wyre close to where Nicola Bulley went missing, Lancashire Police said. Issue date: Sunday February 19, 2023.
Bulley's family have criticised the media for "intrusive" reporting and making contact when they asked for privacy. (PA/Family handout)

"The family's statement mentioned the press/newspapers *three times*, TV crews once and social media once. Yet again, newspapers fail to report on themselves."

The disappearance of Nicola Bulley on 27 January quickly picked up media traction, as police struggled for weeks to find any solid leads on what happened to her.

Soon into the case Lancashire Police said its "working hypothesis" was that the mother-of-two had fallen into the River Wyre while walking her dog, but her friends and family expressed doubts.

Speculation quickly mounted, with internet sleuths and TikTokers wading into the case, which was most unwelcomed by the family.

Read more: Nicola Bulley dive expert defends river search equipment that 'doesn't work on reeds'

When the 45-year-old mortgage adviser was eventually found, some members of the public posing as journalists climbed a fence in an attempt to take pictures of the body, it is claimed.

The police also faced criticism after revealing Bulley had suffered "significant issues with alcohol" which had resurfaced amid her "struggles with the menopause" - without explaining why it shared such personal information.

Ribbons are seen on a bench where the phone of missing woman Nicola Bulley was found, in Lancashire, Britain, February 19, 2023. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Questions remain as to why it took so long to find Nicola Bulley's body less than a mile from where she went missing. (Reuters)

Questions also remain as to why it took 23 days to find her body in the river less than a mile away from where she went missing.

In their statement, relatives attacked the press and members of the public for misquoting details and "vilifying" Bulley's friends and family.

They 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.

Read more: When did Nicola Bulley go missing? Timeline of her disappearance

“It saddens us to think that one day we will have to explain to them that the press and members of the public accused their dad of wrongdoing, misquoted and vilified friends and family.

“This is absolutely appalling, they have to be held accountable. This cannot happen to another family."

A spokesperson for Ofcom said: “We are extremely concerned to hear the comments made by the family of Nicola Bulley about two broadcast licensees.

“We have written to ITV and Sky to ask them to explain their actions. We will then assess whether any further action is required.”