THE body of missing mother Nicola Bulley was finally found last week, just over a mile away from where she was last seen in St Michael’s on Wyre in Lancashire. The grim discovery marked the end of the high-profile search and the beginning of the mourning period for her devastated family and friends.

The family’s trauma over the last month can only have been compounded by the horrifying circus that surrounded the investigation.

Nicola’s disappearance was the subject of a social media frenzy, the likes of which we’ve rarely seen before. The perplexing nature of her disappearance and the length of time it took to find her body led to endless speculation.

As the days went on, interest in the case only increased. Armchair detectives – who seemed to envisage themselves starring in a future Netflix true-crime documentary – took to social media to share their theories on the case.

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They attempted to analyse the body language of Nicola’s friends and family during interviews and used that as the basis for the wild hypotheses they shared with their followers. The only qualification they had to make such pronouncements was the narcissistic delusion that they had spotted something that nobody else had.

These ghouls also descended on the area to film content for social media and take selfies by the bench where the missing mum’s phone was found. They attempted searches of empty buildings nearby, harassed local residents and falsely accused (and named) various people as being responsible for Nicola’s disappearance.

One of the most unsettling aspects of this whole spectacle was the evident enjoyment those who participated drew from it.

For those who knew Nicola Bulley, her disappearance was an unfolding tragedy. But for the social media detectives, it was nothing more than a game.

They inserted themselves into an active investigation and were clearly thrilled by the social media clout and sense of importance that came with it. They weren’t trying to help a worried family or find a missing woman. They were chasing likes and clicks and a moment of gruesome fame.

Last week, it was reported that a 34-year-old barber – who had been one of those capitalising on Nicola’s disappearance to create content on TikTok – lied to police so that he could sneak into a field and film the moment that her body was recovered from the river.

He earned £900 in royalties for that despicable video and although it has since been removed by TikTok, it remains elsewhere.

There’s no doubt these selfish idiots made the job of hard-working local police officers even harder. But the way that Lancashire Police senior officers behaved, particularly during the latter part of the investigation, also needs some reflection.

As time went on and frustration – and media attention – mounted, the press conferences held by the force became increasingly belligerent.

Senior officers clearly felt unfairly maligned over their failure to find Nicola. That attitude seeped out in their interactions with the press, which were at times bad-tempered and unprofessional.

In an attempt to deflect criticism and stop the endless speculation as to why they had focused their search on the river, they revealed Nicola had “specific vulnerabilities” that made her a “high-risk”missing person.

When that disclosure didn’t have the intended effect they went further, and revealed intimate details about her personal life and health.

This was – without question – a self-serving and shameful moment in the investigation. There was nothing to be gained in sharing such personal information. The sole purpose in revealing it was to defend the prior decisions that the force had taken during the investigation.

Of course, media outlets didn’t hold back in their criticism of the social media detectives and the incompetent communication of Lancashire police. But they also contributed to the feeding frenzy around this tragic case.

In a statement released after Nicola’s body had been found, the family were rightly scathing about the actions of certain outlets.

It said: “We tried last night to take in what we had been told in the day, only to have Sky News and ITV making contact with us directly when we expressly asked for privacy.

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“They again have taken it upon themselves to run stories about us to sell papers and increase their own profiles. It is shameful they have acted in this way. Leave us alone now.”

A fundraiser to help with funeral costs and support Nicola’s husband and daughters has so far raised more than £32,000 in donations from members of the public.

Hopefully now the ghouls have packed up and gone home, the family will be given the time and space they need to cope with their devastating loss.