Woman Whose Lies on Facebook About Asian Grooming Gang Provoked ‘Unprecedented Outcry’ Is Jailed
A woman who falsely claimed to have been the victim of an Asian grooming gang in the northwest of England has been jailed for eight-and-a-half years for conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
Eleanor Williams, 22, posted pictures of her so-called injuries and gave an account of having being groomed, trafficked, and beaten by a gang in Barrow-in-Furness, a town in the north of England.
The post, in May 2020, was shared more than 100,000 times and a Facebook group, Justice for Ellie, was even set up in its wake.
But Williams’s account proved to be a complete fabrication. Those she accused were wholly innocent and in some cases faced death threats and other abuse. In the wake of her post there were demonstrations in the town.
After she was jailed at Preston Crown Court on Tuesday, Mohammed Ramzan, a businessman, 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.”
‘No Significant Signs of Remorse’
Sentencing her, the Honorary Recorder of Preston, Judge Robert Altham, said, “It is troubling to say the least that she shows no significant signs of remorse.”
He said her allegations were a “complete fiction” and, as for her motivation, he said, “Unless and until the defendant chooses to say why she has told these lies, we will not know.”
In January, Williams was convicted of eight counts of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice.
She had already pleaded guilty to a ninth count of perverting the course of justice, which related to a hammer that she asked her mother and sister to take to a solicitor in Barrow.
At the start of the trial, Altham told the jury her allegations had led to considerable racial tensions in Barrow, an isolated town most famous as being the home of the BAE Systems shipyard where Britain’s nuclear submarines are built, amid great secrecy.
Altham said: “That community impact was said to include some elements of tension within the community of Barrow. It included, as I can recall, at least one family moving out of the Barrow area and harm to various businesses.”
Williams’s Facebook post—which came in the midst of the first COVID-19 lockdown when many people were at home and gorging themselves on social media—led to a crowdfunding appeal which raised £22,000 “to help her and bring her abusers to justice.”
‘I’m Not Saying I’m Guilty but … I’m Sorry’
Williams wrote a letter to the judge after she was convicted, saying: “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.”
Her lawyer, Louise Blackwell, KC, said her client still maintained the allegations were true, despite the jury’s verdict, and added, “Other than her personal vulnerabilities and her age there doesn’t appear to be any motivation at all.”
The chief reporter at the time at the local newspaper in Barrow, Amy Fenton, had to leave the town after receiving death threats in the wake of her coverage of the case.
After the verdict, Fenton told The Epoch Times: “This case highlighted the burden of responsibility of social media companies such as Facebook in acting as the publisher of comments which can prove to be defamatory, false, and hugely damaging.
“Mine was far from the only life affected by these false allegations and I’m just relieved that the truth has finally come out and justice has prevailed,” she added.
Williams claimed Ramzan was the ringleader of the grooming gang and had taken her to the Netherlands to sell her to a brothel.
Ramzan, who proved he was at a B&Q store in Barrow at the time he was supposedly in Amsterdam, received 500 death threats in the wake of her post.
Another man she falsely accused, Jordan Trengove, gave a statement to the court in which he said he spent 73 days in prison and shared a cell with a convicted sex offender after he was charged as a result of claims made by Williams, which were made prior to her Facebook post.
He said: “This made things even worse for me. There were big protests and marches in Barrow. The lowest point was when I tried to end my life in August 2020.”
‘Unpredecented Outcry on Social Media’
In a statement to the court on Monday, Superintendent Matthew Pearman said Williams’s Facebook post had provoked “unprecedented outcry on social media within the town of Barrow.”
He said, “Barrow had not seen such public displays of mass anger for over 30 years.”
There were 151 extra crimes following the Facebook post, many of which targeted people Williams had falsely named as being her abusers.
Williams was found by police on May 19, 2020 near her home on Walney Island with injuries she claimed were inflicted by the gang after a violent rape. She then went on to accuse a number of men of rapes, dating back to 2017.
But detectives investigating her claims became suspicious and, at her trial, the prosecution said Williams caused the injuries to herself with the hammer, which was found in her bedroom.
Williams had sent messages to herself, purporting to be from her abusers, and manipulated messages from real people to make it look as if they had abused her and were taunting her.
Some of the people she accused were complete figments of her imagination, while others randomly got caught up in her allegations.
The trial heard a man from Essex who responded to messages from her on Snapchat mistakenly thought she was someone he knew in Portsmouth. His replies to her were manipulated to sound sinister.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Meta, which owns Facebook, for comment.
PA Media contributed to this report.