The man who discovered Nicola Bulley’s phone said he immediately knew “this was not right” as he found the crucial piece of evidence.
The dog walker, who said his name was Ron, said he had not known Ms Bulley previously but did recognize her dog.
He said of the case: “Each day something new comes out doesn’t it?”
In an extraordinary coincidence, Kay Burley bumped into Ron as she recreated Ms Bulley’s walk on Sky News.
Ron said he was walking his dog, as he did most mornings, when he came across the mum-of-two’s phone.
He said that when he saw the background on it of Nicola and her partner Paul Ansell, he did not know them by name – but knew they were Willow’s owners.
Ron said: “I’d seen both owners of Willow walking this dog in the past, but while I knew them by face, I didn’t know their names.”
The witness said when he first found the phone he thought “somebody had gone to the toilet”.
But then he added: “I got to about this red brick building here and I thought ‘this is not right’. Then it was just a progression of things happening, you know.
“Because of the wallpaper on the phone we found out who the couple were, and the school was contacted and Paul arrived.”
The dogwalker explained that he had given a full statement to the police after the incident.
The surprise meeting came on the third week to the day since Ms Bulley vanished. Today her father gave a heartbreaking insight into the family’s struggle, commenting: “Every day is a struggle.”
Police said their “main working hypothesis” remains that Ms Bulley fell into the river – but after three weeks of searching, no sign of her has been found.
The force is facing backlash for revealing personal information about Ms Bulley to the general public.
In a press conference on Wednesday, police revealed that Nicola had certain “vulnerabilities” which made her a “high-risk” missing person, and initially said they would not be expanding on what these were.
They later clarified that she suffered from “significant issues with alcohol” which were “brought on by her ongoing struggles with the menopause”.
The force added these had “resurfaced over recent months”, with officers even being sent to Nicola’s home on January 10 – 17 days before her disappearance – in response to a report of concern for her welfare.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman demanded an “explanation” from the police over the decision to reveal such personal details. A source close to Ms Braverman said she was “concerned” by the disclosure of Nicola’s “vulnerabilities”.