Tthree suicide attempts, several wrongful prison sentences, an attack on a curry shop and a storm of unwarranted public outrage: one woman’s false allegations of harassment by an Asian grooming gang had far-reaching consequences.
On Tuesday, a judge at Preston Crown Court sentenced 22-year-old Eleanor Williams, from Barrow-in-Furness, to eight and a half years in prison after her allegations of rape, battery and sex trafficking by a group of men were overturned.
One of the men she falsely accused, Mohammed Ramzan, told the court that he had faced “countless death threats on social media from people all over the world because of what they believed I was involved in” and that he still fears for his future despite the verdict.
“I’m not sure how my family and I are going to get out of this,” he added after Williams was jailed. “The mud is sticking and I’m afraid it might take a while.”
Williams introduced her fictional story to the world in a Facebook post on May 20, 2020 that has been shared more than 100,000 times.
This led the police to launch an investigation which resulted in the arrest of several people, including a man she believed was the leader of an imaginary pan-European grooming gang; Mr. Ramzan, a 43-year-old shop owner from the same area of Cumbria.
She claimed that Mr. Ramzan started grooming her at the age of 12. The list of allegations against him included forcing her to work in brothels in Amsterdam, auctioning her off and taking her to addresses in Blackpool, and forcing her to have sex with men.
Police eventually found evidence exonerating Mr Ramzan, but not before he was arrested and subjected to a litany of abuse and death threats. The businessman said he attempted to take his own life two weeks after his arrest.
Williams’ Facebook post included photos of her covered in cuts and bruises and a swollen, black eye. She said the injuries were inflicted by three Asian men who beat her for not being available to them for weeks due to Covid-19.
Public dislike of Williams’ account led to bricks being thrown at Mr Ramzan’s shop and windows being broken in properties owned by his wife and his wife.
“The kids were throwing flour, eggs, packets of chips, anything they could get their hands on. They stood outside and shouted ‘paedo’ and then pounced when we called the police,” he said Guardian after Williams’ conviction.
Mr. Ramzan was not alone in bullying Williams’ lies. One Muslim restaurateur said he lost tens of thousands of pounds in the business after being wrongly drawn into Williams’ fabrications and was chased down the street by two thugs who racially abused him and poured alcohol over his head.
The curry house also had its windows broken amid increased racial tension due to the nature of the claims. There were protests in support of Williams in Barrow, and the court was shown footage of Tommy Robinson, a notorious Islam-hating figure in the town.
Speaking outside the court after the trial, Mr Ramzan said: “There are no winners here today, I don’t feel triumph, only sadness.”
Williams began making false accusations years ago. Judge Robert Altham, Preston’s honorary registrar, said there was no explanation as to why she lied.
The court heard from forensic psychiatrist Dr. Lucy Bacon that Williams suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which may have resulted from “childhood trauma.”
Defender Louise Blackwell KC said Dr. Bacon’s evidence was not presented to reduce Williams’ guilt, but to provide a picture of the defendant’s circumstances.
Williams’ stories have repeatedly touched upon human trafficking claims. She accused Oliver Gardner, who was drawn into a stream of lies after a chance meeting in the center of Preston, of forcing her to take cocaine and raping her before selling it to two Asian men.
In a statement filed with the court, Gardner said her false claims led him to an autopsy under the Mental Health Act after he attempted to take his own life. He said, “The whole period of my life was totally overwhelming.”
False claims have repeatedly led to vilification of accused men in their communities. Cameron Bibby, the first man she accused of rape, in 2017 when she was 16, said she needed to remove herself from most social media and was labeled a pariah by neighbors who put “Justice 4 Ellie” stickers on their windows.
Jordan Trengove, another 22-year-old Barrow resident, told the court he attempted suicide after his life was “completely destroyed” by Williams’ allegations.
In March 2019, Williams was on a night out with Mr. Trengove when she was taken to her home after being intoxicated.
She later said that Mr Trengove had raped her that night and then on two later occasions, claiming he had come to her flat, attacked her and threatened her with a knife.
The claims appeared to be supported by the injuries she sustained after the alleged attack, but it was later determined that they were self-inflicted.
Judge Altham said: “She forced them together to support her allegations. As we shall see, this was to become a feature of her conduct.” The court saw video footage of Williams buying a hammer at Tesco that prosecutors said caused some of the injuries from a Facebook post.
Mr. Trengove, like Mr. Ramzan, was dragged through the mud because of false accusations before the truth came out.
The young father was arrested in front of his family and spent 10 weeks in detention at HMP Preston, where he said he shared a cell with a convicted sex offender. The word “rapist” was spray-painted on his house and one of his windows was broken.
Mr Trengove said the situation had “calm down a bit” until a Facebook post.
“It made my situation even worse. There were large protests and marches in Barrow. The worst moment was when I tried to end my life in August 2020.”
Now she is bringing a civil action against the Cumbria police, claiming they failed to properly investigate the “iron” alibi. The police eventually realized that he could not have committed one of the alleged rapes because he was being held in the back of one of their vans at the time after an altercation at a taxi stand.
Mr Trengove urged the police: “Hear the accused men as well as the woman complaining.”
In a post-conviction statement, Senior Investigating Officer Doug Marshall said: “Williams presented compelling evidence in reporting her abuses. However, when detectives investigated her accounts, they found evidence that Williams not only lied but also falsified evidence to support her allegations, including creating fake Snapchat accounts and inflicting self-harm.
“Cases like this where someone has fabricated crimes and fabricated evidence are extremely rare.
“What is unfortunately not uncommon is the physical and sexual abuse of children and young adults. He performs in Barrow, Cumbria and across the country.
“I can assure the public that we are committed to doing everything we can – together with partner agencies – to stop such abuses before they happen and bring perpetrators to justice once abuses have occurred.”
If you are experiencing feelings of anxiety or are unable to cope, you can speak confidentially to Samaritans on 116 123 (UK & ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.