The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will not be taking any enforcement action against Lancashire Police over its disclosure of missing mother Nicola Bulley’s personal information, the force has said.
In an update issued on Tuesday, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) also said its investigation into an officer’s contact with Ms Bulley prior to her disappearance identified two areas of learning.
The force came under heavy criticism after the 45-year-old’s body was pulled from the River Wyre in Lancashire on February 19, more than three weeks after she was last seen on January 27.
MPs and campaign groups voiced their disapproval after police elected to put elements of her private life into the public domain during the search – including her struggles with alcohol and perimenopause.
But the force said the ICO had concluded its investigation and informed police it would not be taking any enforcement action.
Conservative police and crime commissioner for the county, Andrew Snowden, said the independent review being conducted by the College of Policing into the force’s handling of the case was under way – with findings and recommendations due to be published in the autumn.
Announcing their conclusions on Tuesday, ICO’s deputy commissioner of regulatory policy Emily Keaney said: “This was an important piece of work around a high-profile case.
“We wanted to reassure the public that there are rules in place to protect how personal information is used and shared, and we wanted to be clear that while police can disclose information to protect the public and investigate crime, they would need to be able to demonstrate such disclosure was necessary and proportionate.”
Ms Keaney added: “We have now spoken with Lancashire Police to better understand the steps they took before releasing information.
“We heard in those conversations the challenging nature of considering whether and how to share personal information during fast-paced, important cases.
“Based on our conversations with Lancashire Police, we don’t consider this case requires enforcement action.
“We’ll be able to provide further details around this decision following the inquest into Nicola Bulley’s death.”
Following the IOPC’s decision not to take action against an officer who had contact with Ms Bulley before her disappearance, Lancashire Police said they attended her address “in support of an ambulance deployment”.
Assistant chief constable Sam Mackenzie said: “The IOPC investigators focused on the actions of one officer and have now completed their investigation and found no misconduct or wrongdoing.
“Whilst we do have some procedural learning it is important to note that our attendance was in support of an ambulance deployment and that the officer dealt with Nicola with compassion and empathy, putting her care at the forefront of his decision-making on that day.”
In a statement, the IOPC said two areas of learning identified for the police officer related to recording information on police systems and the activation of body-worn video.
The watchdog said: “Our investigation, which concluded on April 4, focused on the actions and decisions of the police officer who attended Ms Bulley’s address as part of a multi-agency team.
“The team comprised of a police officer and health professionals who were responding to a concern for her wellbeing, and the IOPC investigation examined whether the police response was in accordance with policy, guidance and training.
“After a careful review and analysis of all the evidence, we identified two areas of learning for Lancashire Constabulary in respect of updating its guidance documents for multi-agency vehicles, to ensure all police officers working in this role understand what is expected of them, as well as the provision of guidance for officers more widely when dealing with similar situations.
“We also identified two areas of learning for the officer, which relate to recording information on police systems and activation of body-worn video.”
Mr Snowden said the College of Policing’s review will have three areas of focus – the operational response to the high-risk missing person investigation, press engagement and decision-making surrounding disclosure of sensitive personal information.
The review’s terms of reference suggests the aspects of the operation that will be scrutinised.