Unmasked: The ghoul who filmed Nicola Bulley's body being lifted

Unmasked: The TikTok ghoul who covertly filmed Nicola Bulley’s body being lifted from the river… and why her grieving partner Paul – the target of his outrageous smears – could sue him for everything he’s got

  • Curtis Arnold, 34, covertly filmed Nicola Bulley’s body being lifted from the river
  • Read more: ‘Our hearts are broken without you’: Hundreds join Nicola Bulley vigil

The video opens with a man walking along a country road. He is breathing heavily and filming as he goes. You never see his face. In the distance, a police officer comes into view and begins walking towards him, waving his arms.

The area is being sealed off and the anonymous figure behind the camera (we now know it was fastened in a harness around his neck) is asked to turn back.

‘I came through a minute ago,’ he explains, pointing in the direction of where he means, adding: ‘My car is [over] there.’

The officer believes him and lets him through.

Once out of sight, the cameraman creeps into a field next to the River Wyre, in Lancashire, and crouches down to secretly record what is happening on the opposite side, where a drone is hovering overhead and police are pulling a potentially tragic discovery from the reeds.

Curtis Arnold, 34, covertly filmed Nicola Bulley’s body being lifted from the river. Arnold has revealed the lengths to which he and others will go to achieve their ends

Jason Dean Rothwell in shock after finding Nicola Bulley’s body in the river

Nicola Bulley pictured with her partner Paul Ansell. Arnold’s video was posted on YouTube and TikTok on an account called Nicola Bulley Case —later rebranded as Curtis Media — which sometimes used a profile picture of Mr Ansell

This is the reason he is here, after all — the potential ‘money shot’.

As this scene unfolds on the ground, the eight-minute clip is uploaded to the internet. The title is: ‘Nicola Bulley *Breaking* Police found something . . . !!!’

The time is just after 11.30 on the morning of Sunday, February 19 and the ‘something’ being retrieved from the river is believed to be the body of 45-year-old mother-of-two Nicola, who went missing while walking her dog 23 days earlier.

The footage — possibly the most controversial and distasteful of all the material that has swamped TikTok and YouTube in the wake of her disappearance a month ago — attracted nearly a million views.

It was posted on YouTube and TikTok on an account called Nicola Bulley Case —later rebranded as Curtis Media — which sometimes used a profile picture of Nicola’s partner Paul Ansell. Videos of Mr Ansell’s media interviews showcased on the Curtis Media channel carried hurtful and scandalous headlines.

Another, now notorious production on another of his channels, called Curtis Cool Stuff, showed a figure, not the man with the camera, digging in woodland which is described as ‘a possible burial site’.

But who exactly is Curtis?

It’s a question almost everyone, both inside and outside the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, not far from Nicola’s home, has been asking ever since this tragedy opened a Pandora’s Box of ghoulish self-styled citizen investigators, online sleuths, social media vigilantes and conspiracy theorists who crawled out, spreading smears and lies and even trampling through back gardens in pursuit of non-existent evidence.

Mother of two Nicola Bulley was discovered on Sunday morning in the River Wyre in Lancashire, more than three weeks after she disappeared

Curtis has emerged as one of the most notorious figures in this crowded field. He never gives his full name and his face always remains hidden.

It was people like him — along with newspapers and broadcasters — who were strongly criticised by members of Nicola’s family in a statement last week, following confirmation that the body found in the river was hers.

‘It saddens us to think that one day we will have to explain to [Nicola and Paul’s young daughters] 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,’ they said.

Indeed it should not. Also it must be pointed out that if some of the defamatory comments directed at Mr Ansell online by Curtis had been printed by mainstream media, he would, quite rightly, be able to sue them for substantial damages. And there is nothing stopping Mr Ansell suing Curtis now.

The Mail tracked Curtis down from his digital footprint to a town centre barber’s shop in the Midlands. Inside was an athletically built young man in a tight-fitting T-shirt, knee-length shorts and trainers, clipping the hair of a middle-aged customer.

We had already established that his name was Curtis Arnold. Was he the Curtis who has been posting videos on the Nicola Bulley investigation?

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘How did you find me?’

Nicola Bulley with her partner Paul Ansell. Mr Ansell revealed that he and the family are in ‘agony’ after a dogwalker found Nicola’s body in the reeds of the River Wyre

Curtis Arnold is 34, single and lives in a three-bedroom detached house near the barber’s shop he has been running for the past two years. It is a perfectly respectable but unremarkable existence.

Maybe that is why he made five six-hour round trips to St Michael’s on Wyre in the space of ten days to acquire ‘content’ for his channel, which he describes as ‘media and journalism done differently’.

His final video from the village on February 19 was an example of this, presumably.

Did he show any shame or remorse for this indecent invasion of the family’s grief and distress, not to mention interfering in an already difficult police investigation? Not at all.

‘If it has caused her family any distress (it has and they have said so publicly), I apologise,’ he said. ‘If they saw it, it can’t have been a nice thing for them to have seen and I’m sorry about that. That’s why I made the video private this week. I did that out of respect for the family.’

Nor, he claims, did he know exactly what he had filmed until he examined the footage afterwards, when he realised that what was removed from the water looked like a yellow body bag. We’ll have to take his word on that.

And what of Mr Ansell, Nicola’s grief-stricken partner? What was his justification for unfairly tarnishing him?

READ MORE: ‘Rest in peace Nikki’: Hundreds gather at candlelit vigil for Nicola Bulley in her home town and pay tribute to mother-of-two who ‘touched hearts in every possible way’


It was only this, he insists: ‘I felt he was hiding something when I watched him being interviewed on TV. I was hoping my videos would trigger a member of the public to come forward with new information.’

There was also another reason, of course.

He points to the screen on his phone during the interview, where the sum of £716.06 is displayed; this is the amount he has made from YouTube for the harrowing riverside video alone.

‘It is probably £900 by now but it takes a while to come through,’ Mr Arnold reveals.

‘My ambition is to be a full-time YouTuber and make a good living from it. The income potential is there and I love doing what I’m doing on the channel.’

Social media algorithms, experts claim, encourage and reward controversial content such as his. TikTok users, for example, can apply to be paid once they have accumulated 10,000 followers and at least 100,000 video views in 30 days. TikTok then pays around £40 per million views.

YouTubers can expect to earn upwards of £1,000 per million views, if adverts are run alongside content.

A narcissistic urge to be at the centre of the story, resulting in the spread of dangerous misinformation, was effectively being monetised in St Michael’s on Wyre, in other words. The hashtag ‘Nicola Bulley’ has had nearly 400 million views on TikTok alone.

So many outsiders descended on this corner of Lancashire that, at one point, the police had to issue a 48-hour dispersal order to clear the village of people like Curtis Arnold.

TikTok insists that ‘additional resources’ have been ‘mobilised’ to remove ‘content and accounts that engage in bullying and harassment’ — yet hurtful conspiracy theories about Nicola’s disappearance were still being posted, or had not been removed, after her death was confirmed.

One of the culprits is Darrel, 39, from Watford, ‘@dhbreincarnated’. The letters ‘dhb’ stand for ‘don’t hold back’.

Darrel has had multiple accounts banned by TikTok but he just opens a new one under a slightly different name, with the same truly vile content.

Over the past few weeks he has turned his sights on the Nicola Bulley case. ‘The husband, the partner? Sorry red flags,’ he declared, hiding behind a hashtag, from his ‘armchair’ more than 200 miles away.

More than 200 people gathered in South Woodham Ferrers, the Essex Town where Nicola Bulley grew up, to join a vigil. Pictured:  a young child watches as a woman lights a candle in honour of Ms Bulley 

His gratuitously untrue and defamatory slurs provide an insight into the mentality of the people who have embraced this genre. Darrel, who declined to give his full name when contacted, admitted he had only watched a video of Mr Ansell being interviewed twice.

‘I am just venting,’ he said. ‘Everyone gets offended by anything you say now. It’s a generation of snowflakes.’

He added: ‘I don’t make a penny out of TikTok. It’s a hobby for me. It’s the same as sitting down in the local pub or going to Costa to talk about things with a wider audience.’

Another is an unsavoury character called Dan Duffy. Unlike Darrel, we know who he is.

Accompanied by two colleagues, he conducted nocturnal searches of land and property around St Michael’s on Wyre and livestreamed their exploits on TikTok. After being told by a resident that his house had already been searched by police, they promptly informed their thousands of viewers that he was ‘dodgy’.

After a confrontation with another resident, Duffy, who lives in nearby Darwen, was fined £90 for a public order offence. In footage of his arrest uploaded to YouTube, he is seen standing on the step of a police van, giving the middle finger with both hands.

Floral tributes were left at the bandstand as family friends of Ms Bulley said: ‘Our hearts are broken without you. A void will always be in our hearts, but her memory will live on’

Back in the Midlands, Curtis Arnold reveals, in worrying detail, the lengths to which he and others will go to achieve their ends.

He says he was wearing a GoPro camera — for on-the-move filming — fastened in a harness around his neck on his trip to the village.

On that fateful Sunday, he admits lying to get through the roadblock by telling the police officer who initially stopped him that he needed to get to his car.

When he finally got in position to film, farther down the road, he crouched and held a mobile phone above his head because he didn’t want to be seen.

‘I held the phone as high above me as I could, resting it on fencing,’ he said gleefully. ‘I couldn’t see a thing but I knew my camera would be recording whatever was happening. It wasn’t until I got back to where the mainstream media were gathered that I realised what was on the footage.’

Many people reacted with horror to the video. ‘This is disgraceful!’ one post read. ‘Imagine if that was your loved one.’

It isn’t the only time Curtis Arnold caused offence. Another video, ‘Nicola Bulley *UNSEEN* ABANDONED HOUSE SEARCH!!’, was viewed almost 100,000 times on YouTube.

It showed Mr Arnold roaming around a large, supposedly vacant house on the opposite side of the river from the bench where Nicola was last seen and her phone was found.

He also attracted widespread criticism for a clip (uploaded on Friday, February 10) of a man digging in woodland near the same spot as Mr Arnold filmed and provided commentary

They looked as if they were a team working in tandem but he insists he had never met the other man, who was already raking through soil when he arrived at the scene.

‘Someone had been digging there and I told the cops that but they didn’t follow it up,’ he said. ‘I went back to the spot a week later and another member of the public had taken it on himself to dig more. I never met him before. I just filmed him digging.’

He seems to have forgotten he had no business there at all. The activities of TikTok sleuths are now widely acknowledged to have hampered the already difficult police investigation.

‘He will do anything for more views to make money,’ said someone who knows Curtis Arnold well. ‘He gives all TikTok-ers a bad reputation. He is not reporting news. What he is doing is monetising people’s peril or anything else he can.’

But Curtis Arnold, who says he has received death threats following the public backlash over the Nicola Bulley case, remains undeterred.

‘I intend to follow as many breaking news stories as I can in the future and put them on the channel,’ he says.

‘It gives the public a chance to get closer to the event, and in the Nicola case I wanted people to watch my footage and see if they noticed that me or the police had missed [anything].’

Yes, he really did say that.

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