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Watch: The video evidence that helped convict Eleanor Williams

By Anna Collinson
BBC News

A serial fantasist’s lies that she was groomed by an Asian gang are set out in 50 hours of police videos.

The footage, shared exclusively with the BBC, tracks Eleanor Williams’ deceit as it becomes more elaborate over a three-year period.

One video shows her with self-inflicted facial wounds while acting drugged.

Williams, 23, from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, was jailed for eight-and-a-half years after being found guilty of perverting the course of justice.

False allegations of rape are extremely rare, but when they are made they can seriously undermine the credibility of genuine victims, according to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Warning: this story contains details that some people may find upsetting

Eleanor Williams went viral in May 2020 when she posted photographs of her bruised face and body on social media and claimed she had been beaten and raped by a gang of Asian men.

Williams shared images of her facial injuries in a Facebook post – sparking protests in Barrow-in-Furness

However, an hour after her Facebook post went live, it was the then-19-year-old Williams who was arrested.

A surge in hate crime followed in her hometown of Barrow-on-Furness – Cumbria Constabulary recorded 83 linked to the post, with residents within the Asian community receiving death threats and being verbally abused and spat at. Some businesses were also vandalised.

At that stage, the police were unable to tell the public what they already knew about Williams for fear of prejudicing a future trial.

But now a BBC Three documentary has exclusively revealed footage from the case that shows the scale of her deception.

‘Evolution’ of lies

Williams is 16 years old when, in 2017, she accuses her first male victim of rape.

During the police interview that follows, she is filmed wearing a brightly coloured T-shirt with cartoons on it.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the case, Det Con Claire Ritchie recalls: “She looked really young.”

The detective – who specialises in interviewing victims of sexual offences – says: “The majority of people would never lie about something like this so there’s no reason not to believe somebody, but it’s my job to establish the facts.”

The man Williams accuses denies all knowledge and she then withdraws her involvement in the investigation.

Eighteen months later, the teenager lodges a fresh set of false sexual allegations against her second victim, who spends 10 weeks in prison before being released.

During the November 2019 police interview, Williams made even more serious claims of abuse than previously

In a police interview around that time, Williams’ hair is tied back so that bruising on her cheek is visible.

Williams, then 18, speaks quietly and says of the man she is accusing: “He had a knife and was waving it around… [He] pulled me into the bathroom by my hair, stripped me naked and was hitting me with the shower head.”

Weeks after this, Williams makes an even more serious claim – that an Asian grooming gang is forcing her to have sex with men across the north-west of England.

Detectives believe she had researched previous grooming scandals involving young white female victims and Asian male perpetrators.

“What I can clearly see is an evolution,” says Det Con John Robinson. “You’ve got an awful allegation in 2017, a much worse allegation in 2019 and weeks later it properly snowballs into a massive organised crime group.”

Liar: The Fake Grooming Scandal

Eleanor Williams was jailed for lying about being trafficked and raped by a vicious Asian grooming gang. Now, for the first time, the truth is laid open.

Watch now on BBC iPlayer (UK Only)

Detectives say Williams went into “unbelievable” detail when describing the locations to which she had supposedly been taken by the gang, from a property with “orangey-coloured walls” to a “Star Wars calendar” on display. She can even be seen drawing pictures of the layout of the properties she says she had visited.

But when, in July 2019, she is taken by officers to Blackpool – the town where she had claimed to have been recently trafficked – footage recorded inside a police car shows her unable to provide any leads.

Det Con Robinson recalls “driving around for large parts of each day fairly aimlessly in the hope that something might be familiar to Ellie”. He recalls being struck by the lack of emotion Williams displayed, despite the seriousness of what she alleged had been done to her: “I spent two days in a car with her. I don’t remember her getting upset once.”

When police investigate further, they find that mobile phone records contradict her account.

Injuries

Before she can be arrested, Williams goes missing. When her family inform police that she has been found, officers visit her flat one evening later in July 2019.

Body-worn police video, which until now has only been seen in court, shows Williams answering the door to officers with a bruised and bloody face. She staggers around the room before collapsing on to a chair, apparently intoxicated.

Williams’ trial was told she had been pretending to be semi-conscious in the police footage

She claims a man in Preston has drugged and raped her and forced her to have sex with two Asian men. After returning to Barrow, she says, she was picked up by other two Asian men who also attacked her.

Despite officers becoming increasingly suspicious of her claims, they nevertheless have to continue with a full investigation.

They obtain CCTV footage that shows Williams travelling alone to Preston. On a street in the city a young male stranger is filmed asking her for a lighter and the two can be seen striking up a conversation.

Detectives believe this is the start of her grooming him to make him part of her story.

CCTV footage shows Williams talking to one of her victims on a street in Preston

The pair are seen walking arm-in-arm and, after swapping numbers, they go their separate ways.

Williams would later accuse the young man of being a trafficker and a rapist. He and two of her other male victims went on to try to take their own lives.

When she arrives back in Barrow, CCTV footage shows Williams walking alone until a car pulls over.

But the driver is her brother’s girlfriend – not an Asian man as she had claimed – who gives Williams a lift home.

At this point, Williams has no visible injuries and appears lucid.

Her family tell the police she has returned home and shortly afterwards, officers arrive at her flat. At her trial, it is widely agreed the injuries seen in the footage of their visit are self-inflicted and she is “play-acting” and pretending to be semi-conscious.

“It’s hard to understand why somebody would go to those lengths and what the motivation would be – other than a desperation to be believed,” says Det Con Robinson.

‘Justice for Ellie’

In the months following, Williams is charged with lying about every allegation she has made. But, on the night of 19 May 2020, she breaks a curfew that had been imposed on her and is found by officers in a dark field.

Police body-worn video shows she has sustained even more serious injuries, with one of her eyes so bruised and swollen she is unable to open it. She has a bloody, lacerated finger and marks all over her body.

Williams alleges she has been brutally raped by a gang of Asian men, but the police find a hammer in the field and the only DNA on it belongs to her.

Only Williams’ DNA was found on the hammer recovered from a field

“My serious concern was that she was going to end up killing herself or come to some serious harm. I don’t think it would have ever stopped,” says Det Ch Insp Graham-Cumming.

Hours later, she posts her viral message on Facebook in which she claims she is the victim of a grooming gang. Shortly afterwards she is arrested.

Det Con Ritchie watched in horror as a “Justice for Ellie” crowdfunding page raised over £20,000.

“I’m Barrow born and bred, and it’s a really caring community,” she says. “I had family members donate to it and I’m thinking ‘crazy’. You know the truth, but you can’t say anything.”

Det Con Claire Ritchie specialises in interviewing victims of sexual offences

Explanations for Williams’ behaviour remain elusive. At her trial, the judge said he had “received much psychiatric evidence in this case – but there is no explanation for why the defendant would commit these offences”.

Det Con Ritchie says: “It was like, is she having vivid dreams? Is she genuinely thinking this has happened? Is she unwell?

“She’s obviously a really troubled girl and in that respect, I feel really sorry for her.”

But detectives are certain that without their intervention, Williams’ lies would have intensified further.

The judge said there was a risk that genuine victims of sex crimes, as a result of Williams’ actions, would feel deterred from reporting them.

However, Cumbria Police say this is a totally unique case and want to reassure genuine victims that they will be supported.

If you’ve been affected by issues raised in this report, details of organisations offering information and support about sexual abuse and violence are available via BBC Action line

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