On 20 May 2020, Eleanor Williams started typing on Facebook: “I think this is the hardest post I’m (sic) ever going to write.”
The 19-year-old claimed she had been abducted to have sex with “three Asian men” and was being trafficked across the north of England. She posted several photos of herself, appearing to sport horrific injuries, black eyes and bruises across her body.
At the time, Williams would have no idea of the consequences of this one bombshell social media post. However those 1,362 words would set off a series of events which would lead to multiple court cases, people fleeing their homes, several suicide attempts and Williams herself being imprisoned for eight-and-a-half years for perverting the course of justice.
In the original Facebook post, Williams claimed that she “was put into the back of a car, taken to an address to have sex with three Asian men”. She alleged that she was “beaten because I was in debt to these men for not attending ‘parties’ for over seven weeks due to coronavirus (sic)”.
Warning: images below show injuries which may cause distress
She then alleged these men tried to cut her finger off, and included a photo showing gauze wrapped around a bloodied finger. Other photos appeared to show cuts, which she said the men had done to teach her a lesson.
Williams also said that the men had dumped her naked in the middle of nowhere, broken her ribs, bones and face, and tried to cut her nipples off. She claimed she had been trafficked and raped in Barrow, Cumbria, as well as other cities across the North, and alleged that local business owners were involved.
The post and pictures, of a bloody Williams, shocked the internet, and were viewed more than 100,000 times. The problem was it was completely fabricated, with the judge in Williams’ trial describing it as “complete fiction”. Williams in fact caused these injuries with a hammer, which was found with her blood on close by. And this one Facebook post would tear apart the community she lived in over the coming months.
The Facebook post spawned a Justice for Ellie campaign, with people buying t-shirts and posters with the slogan imprinted on it. It sparked demonstrations in Barrow, and led to former English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson visiting the town to “investigate” the claims.
Indian restaurants in the town had bricks thrown through their window, and owners told Sky News they were spat at in the street. One said he lost 90% of his customers, after a list circulated on Snapchat which claimed to show businesses complicit in the abuse of Williams.
Cumbria Police said there were 151 extra crimes following the Facebook post, including 83 hate crimes as well as criminal damage and public order offences. And as detectives investigated Williams’ claims they uncovered a pack of lies.
At the time of her bombshell Facebook post, Williams had in fact already been charged with multiple counts of perverting the course of justice. These included three false rape claims against men going back to 2017, who all attempted to take their own lives following the allegations.
Mohammed Ramzan, a business owner who Williams alleged trafficked her, told the court: “I have had countless death threats made over social media from people all over the world because of what they thought I was involved in.”
In a scene reminiscent of the Liam Neeson film Taken, Williams claimed Mr Ramzan, 43, had groomed her from the age of 12, put her to work in brothels in Amsterdam, and sold her at an auction there. But the court heard that, at the time she was in the Netherlands, his bank card was being used at a B&Q in Barrow.
Williams also gave police an account of being taken to Blackpool, where she said Mr Ramzan threatened her and she was taken to different addresses and forced to have sex with men.
When police made inquiries, they found she had travelled to the seaside resort alone and stayed in a hotel, where she bought a Pot Noodle from a nearby shop and then remained in her room watching YouTube on her phone.
Police found that Williams manipulated social media apps, to make it appear as if men were talking about raping her. She would send some messages to herself, making them appear as if they were from traffickers or fellow victims, and in other cases manipulated real people to send messages which she then said were from her abusers. Some of the people she made allegations about were real, while others did not exist.
Williams claimed a Snapchat account belonged to an Asian trafficker called Shaggy Wood, however this was in fact the account of a man called Liam Wood, who lived in Essex, and worked in Tesco. He believed Williams to be a friend who lived in Portsmouth and was planning to visit him.
She also made false rape claims against a man called Oliver Gardner, whose only encounter with her was asking her for a lighter in the street. While Jordan Trengove spent 73 days in prison on remand after she falsely accused him of raping and drugging her at knifepoint. Mr Trengove said of the accusations: “It can ruin your life and it has ruined mine.”
Jurors took just three hours and 29 minutes to find Williams guilty of all eight counts of perverting the course of justice following the 10-week trial, which ended in January. Today, 14 March, Williams was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison for her crimes, with Judge Robert Altham saying: “It is troubling to say the least that she shows no significant signs of remorse.”
In a letter read to the court, Williams said she had not instigated anything which happened in the community and did not want Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, to come to the town. She said: “I do not agree with his views or opinions.”
In the letter to the judge, she said: “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.”
However her lawyer, Louise Blackwell KC, said Williams maintained the allegations were true. During the trial, she said: “I wanted people to know what was going on in Barrow, still is going on.”
Despite the 10-week trial and all the accompanying media coverage, Williams, now 22, has never revealed why she fabricated the Facebook post and false rape claims. Her lawyer said: “Other than her personal vulnerabilities and her age there doesn’t appear to be any motivation at all.”
While Judge Altham added there was no explanation for why the defendant made the allegations, saying: “Unless and until the defendant chooses to say why she has told these lies we will not know.” Perhaps after several years in prison, Williams will choose to reveal why she fabricated astonishing allegations which caused chaos in her home town of Barrow.
For those struggling, there are a variety of places which offer help and support. Anyone can contact Samaritans for free at any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email [email protected] or visit the Samaritans website.