Three attempted suicides, several wrongful jail terms, an attack on a curry house and a storm of misled public outrage: One woman’s false accusations of abuse at the hands of an Asian grooming gang had far-reaching consequences.
On Tuesday, a judge at Preston Crown Court sentenced Eleanor Williams, 22, of Barrow-in-Furness, to eight-and-a-half years in jail after her claims of being raped, beaten and trafficked by a group of men were disproven.
One of the men she falsely accused, Mohammed Ramzan, told the court he had faced “countless death threats made over social media from people all over the world because of what they thought I was involved in” and still fears for his future despite the verdict.
“I’m not sure how the family and I are going to recover from this,” he added after Williams was jailed. “Mud sticks and I fear it may take some time.”
Williams broadcast her fictitious story to the world in a Facebook post on 20 May 2020, which was shared more than 100,000 times.
It led police to launch an investigation that saw several arrests including that of the man she said was the kingpin of an imagined Europe-wide grooming gang; Mr Ramzan, a 43-year-old shop owner from the same area of Cumbria.
She claimed Mr Ramzan began grooming her at the age of 12. The list of allegations against him included putting her to work in Amsterdam brothels, selling her at an auction and taking her to addresses around Blackpool and forcing her to have sex with men.
Police eventually found exonerating evidence for Mr Ramzan but not before he was arrested and subject to a litany of abuse and death threats. The businessman said he tried to take his own life a fortnight after his arrest.
Williams’s Facebook post included photographs of her covered in cuts and bruises, along with a swollen black eye. She said the injuries were sustained at the hands of three Asian men who beat her for failing to be available to them for weeks due to Covid-19.
Public revulsion at Williams’s account led to bricks being thrown at Mr Ramzan’s shop and windows being smashed at properties owned by and his wife.
“Kids were throwing flour, eggs, crisp packets, anything they could find. They would stand outside and shout ‘paedo’ and then leg it once we called the police,” he told The Guardian after Williams was convicted.
Mr Ramzan was not alone in receiving abuse off the back of Williams’s lies. One Muslim restaurateur said he lost tens of thousands of pounds in business after being wrongly drawn into Williams’s fabrications, and was chased down the street by two thugs who racially abused him and poured alcohol on his head.
A curry house also had its windows smashed amid the heightened racial tension resulting from the nature of the claims. Protests were held in Barrow in support of Williams and the court was shown footage of notorious anti-Islam hate figure Tommy Robinson in the town.
Speaking outside court following the hearing, Mr Ramzan said: “There’s no winners here today, I feel no sense of triumph, only sadness.”
Williams began making false allegations years ago. Judge Robert Altham, honorary recorder of Preston, said there was no explanation for why she lied.
The court heard from forensic psychiatrist Dr Lucy Bacon that Williams has post-traumatic stress disorder that may have arisen from “childhood trauma”.
Louise Blackwell KC, defending, said Dr Bacon’s evidence was not being presented in an effort to reduce Williams’s culpability, but to provide a picture of the defendant’s circumstances.
Williams’s stories repeatedly involved trafficking claims. She accused Oliver Gardner, who was dragged into the stream of lies after a chance encounter in Preston city centre, of forcing her to take cocaine, and raping her before selling her to two Asian men.
In a statement to court, Mr Gardner said her false claims led to him being sectioned under the Mental Health Act after trying to take his own life. He said: “This whole period in my life has been totally overwhelming.”
The false claims have time and time again led to the accused men being vilified in their communities. Cameron Bibby, the first man she accused of rape, in 2017 when she was 16, said he had to remove himself from most social media and was made a pariah by neighbours who stuck “Justice 4 Ellie” stickers in their windows.
Jordan Trengove, another 22-year-old Barrow local, told the court he attempted suicide after his life was “utterly destroyed” by Williams’s allegations.
In March 2019 Williams had been on a night out with Mr Trengove when she was taken to her home after becoming intoxicated.
She would later say Mr Trengove raped her that night, and then on two later occasions, alleging he came to her flat, attacked her and threatened her with a knife.
The claims appeared to be supported by injuries she had after the alleged attack but these were later determined to have been self-inflicted.
Judge Altham said: “She caused them to herself to support her allegations. As we will see this was to become a feature of her conduct.” The court saw video footage of Williams buying a hammer at Tesco which prosecutors said she used to cause some of the injuries from the Facebook post.
Mr Trengove, like Mr Ramzan, was dragged through the mud over the false accusations before the truth got out.
The young father was arrested in front of his family and spent 10 weeks on remand in HMP Preston, where he said he shared a cell with a convicted sex offender. The word “rapist” was spray painted across his house and one of his windows was smashed.
Mr Trengove said the situation had “calmed down a bit” until the Facebook post.
“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.”
He is now bringing a civil action against Cumbria Police, claiming they failed to properly investigate “cast iron” alibis. Police eventually realised he could not have committed one of the alleged rapes as he was at that time being held in the back of one of their vans after a row at a taxi rank.
Mr Trengove urged police: “Listen to the accused men as well as the woman making the complaint.”
In a statement after the sentencing, Senior Investigating Officer Doug Marshall said: “Williams had produced compelling evidence when reporting her abuse. However, as detectives investigated her accounts, they found evidence that Williams had not only lied but had concocted evidence to support her allegations including creating fake Snapchat accounts and inflicting injuries on herself.
“Cases such as this, where someone has invented crimes and concocted evidence, are extremely rare.
“What is, sadly, not rare is physical and sexual abuse against children and young adults. It occurs in Barrow, in Cumbria and across the country.
“I can assure the public that we are committed to doing everything in our power – alongside partner agencies – to stop such abuse before it occurs and bring perpetrators to justice when abuse has taken place.”
If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.