(CNN) The body of the missing British mother Nicola Polly She was identified by British police on Monday, weeks after she went missing while walking her dog in northern England in January.
Lancashire Police confirmed at a news conference on Monday that a body recovered from the River Weary on Sunday, close to where the 45-year-old Bulli was last seen, was hers.
“Unfortunately we are now able to confirm that we recovered Nicola Pole from the River Weary yesterday,” Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson told reporters.
“Nicola’s family has been informed and they are of course devastated. Our thoughts are with them at this time, as well as with all of her loved ones and the wider community,” he said.
The announcement came after a turbulent and emotional few weeks when police faced widespread criticism of sexism in their investigation, and a social media frenzy around her disappearance drowned out baseless allegations and Conspiracy theories.
Polly, a mortgage advisor, went missing on the morning of Friday, January 27. Police say she was walking her dog after dropping off her two children at school.
Soon after, her dog was found wandering by itself and her phone was spotted on a bench by the river, still recorded on a group work call. But the search launched by Lancashire Police has been empty for three weeks.
Lancashire Police Detectives Chief Detective Pauline Staples read a statement on behalf of Nicola’s family on Monday, in which they said the identification of the body confirmed their “worst fears”. “We will never be able to understand what Nikki went through in her last moment,” she said.
“Our girls will get the support they need from the people they love the most. And it saddens us to think that one day we will have to explain to them that the press and members of the public have accused their father of wrongdoing (and) misquoted and insulted friends and family. This is absolutely horrific. They must be held accountable. This cannot happen to another family.”
Lancashire Police officers insisted throughout the investigation that there was no evidence to suggest third party involvement and their main working hypothesis remained that it had fallen into the River Wire.
The case baffled the public and attracted widespread media attention, as the police also – unusually – chose to reveal that Polly had alcohol and menopausal problems at the time of her disappearance.
Last week saw investigators sharply lash out at members of the public who they said were exploiting “persistent myths”.
Lancashire Police Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith told reporters on Wednesday that the social media frenzy had created a “major distraction” for the investigation. “In my 29 years of police service, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Smith.
Smith told reporters last week that social media users “playing private investigators” and manipulating “persistent legends” on TikTok could be “significantly distracting” from the investigation.
The family also sharply criticized the journalists in their statement, describing it as “shameful” by some major British media outlets for making direct contact with the family when they “explicitly asked for privacy”.
Lancashire Police’s decision to release personal details about Polly drew widespread criticism, with many accusing the force of sexism. The government has even criticized the police, with Interior Minister Soella Braverman raising concerns about its handling of the case.
Stephanie Bennion, a friend of Polly’s whose children go to the same school, previously told CNN that she is “a kind, loyal, thoughtful person who adores her girls, her family, and her friends.” Polly’s partner of 12 years, Paul Ansell, described the situation as “permanent hell”.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”