(The Guardian) A woman has been jailed for eight and a half years after being found guilty of lying about being raped and trafficked by an Asian grooming gang, and making false rape claims against a series of other men.
Eleanor Williams, 22, from Barrow-in-Furness was convicted in January of nine counts of perverting the course of justice.
Her claims went viral during lockdown in May 2020 when she posted photographs of herself on Facebook covered in shocking bruises, with a black eye and a partially severed finger. She said she had been beaten and made to attend “sex parties” by “evil yet clever” Asian men, mostly Pakistani business owners.
The allegations soon spread far beyond Cumbria and sparked a global solidarity campaign, Justice for Ellie, with more than 100,000 Facebook members. It had its own line of merchandise, featuring a purple elephant, and prompted rallies all over the UK, amid allegations of a police cover-up.
Cumbria police recorded 151 crimes linked to the case in 2020, including malicious communications and harassment, as well as criminal damage and public order offences. Hate crimes tripled in Barrow that summer.
In a letter to the judge, read to Preston crown court on Tuesday, Williams maintained her innocence but said she was sorry and “devastated” at how her Facebook post affected Barrow.
“I understand that it’s your job to believe the jury’s verdict and that’s OK. I know I have made some mistakes, I’m sorry. I know it’s no excuse but I was young and confused,” she wrote.
“I’m not saying I’m guilty but I know I have done wrong on some of this and I’m sorry. I’m devastated at the trouble that has been caused in Barrow. If I knew what consequences would have come from that status I never would have posted it.”
Despite the focus on Asian groomers, by the time Williams made her Facebook post, she had been charged with multiple counts of perverting the course of justice.
These included making false rape claims against three young white men, one of whom, Oliver Gardner, simply had the misfortune to ask her for a light in the street. Another, Jordan Trengove, spent 73 days in prison on remand after she falsely accused him of raping and drugging her at knifepoint.
But Williams reserved her wildest allegations for a Barrow businessman, Mohammed Ramzan, known locally as Mo Rammy. Ramzan, now 43, told Preston crown court he had only met Williams once, briefly, at a family party. Williams said he was in fact the head of an international grooming gang, who first had sex with her aged 12 or 13, and then trafficked her and dozens of other girls around north-west England and abroad.
Trengove, Gardner and Ramzan all said they tried to kill themselves as a result of being falsely accused.
Williams had six mobile phones she used to create fake identities, and manipulated the Snapchat accounts of real men she had met – via the dating app Tinder, or subscribers to her account on OnlyFans, the erotic photo-sharing site – to make them look like they were Asian abusers.
Police were able to prove that one Snapchat account that purported to belong to Trengove, and which seemed to be goading her about the rapes, had in fact been created using the wifi at the Williams family home on Walney Island in Barrow.
Williams gave police a list of 60 girls, half from Cumbria and half from elsewhere, who she said had been pimped out by Ramzan’s gang. But when police knocked on the girls’ doors they were met with blank faces.
One of them, Chloe (not her real name), told the Guardian of her confusion at being confronted with the suggestion she had been groomed and abused with Williams, who was in the year above her at Walney school in Barrow.
“I had the police round out of the blue. They said I was named by Ellie Williams, that I was at these parties in Morecambe and Preston – not the case at all,” said Chloe, now 21. She said she had been on one night out with Williams and, though she knew her to say hi, was not a close friend. “It’s very weird how she mentioned my name.”
Even so, Chloe was as shocked as everyone else in Barrow when she saw Williams’ Facebook post in May 2020. She still struggles to believe her injuries were self-inflicted, as a forensic pathologist concluded they were, with a hammer Williams bought from Tesco a few days earlier.
Chloe bought a Justice for Ellie T-shirt and joined several solidarity protests. “Everyone had something of Justice for Ellie. Everyone. And if it wasn’t on you, it was on your car or on the front of your house.” She says she feels “stupid” to have joined the rallies for someone who made up so many lies. “It got very nasty very quickly.”
Trengove had “rapist” spray-painted on the side of his house. Ramzan received more than 500 death threats and had to leave Barrow for months. A reporter from the local Mail newspaper also left the town temporarily on police advice after receiving dozens of threats in response to a report she wrote about Williams’ first court appearance.
Indian restaurant owners in the town repeatedly had their windows smashed after a list circulated on Snapchat purporting to show businesses complicit in Williams’ abuse.
One Muslim restaurateur, who asked not to be named, said he lost at least £80,000 worth of custom after being named on the list. Orders dropped from 70-80 a night to two or three, and he was pursued down the street by people on skateboards who used the P-word and sprayed beer in his face.
During Williams’ sentencing hearing at Preston crown court, Judge Altham asked if the prosecution was asking him to sentence on the basis that the offences were motivated by racial hatred. Jonathan Sandiford KC said no, noting the jury had heard evidence of Williams’ “affectionate and emotional” relationship with at least one Asian man.
The court heard Williams continued to maintain her innocence and that two psychiatrists had been unable to diagnose her with a disorder. But one, Dr Lucy Bacon, said she had experienced complex post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of childhood trauma.