LONDON (AP) — A woman who falsely claimed she was drugged, raped and forced to work as a prostitute was sentenced Tuesday to more than eight years imprisonment in a case that fueled racial tensions in Britain.
Eleanor Williams, 22, said on Facebook in May 2020 — in a post shared more than 100,000 times — that she had been beaten, abused and trafficked by south Asian men, stoking months of anger, fear and acts of vandalism in her hometown of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.
Williams was convicted by a jury in Preston Crown Court in January of acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice.
At the time of the Facebook post, police suspected Williams’s wild allegations of violent rapes and sexual trafficking overseas had been fabricated and that she had beaten herself with a hammer to support her claims.
Judge Robert Altham said he couldn’t explain Williams’ motivation, but said the accusations were a “complete fiction” that capitalized on real instances in which men — sometimes of south Asian descent — had exploited teenage girls by grooming them first with gifts, booze and drugs before abusing them.
“I’m sure she chose to lie about Asian men because she was modeling her lies on other cases of national prominence,” Altham said. “She regarded the prospects of being believed as greater if she based them on cases already in the public consciousness.”
Three of the accused men told authorities they tried to take their own lives while under suspicion.
Williams had claimed that Mohammed Ramzan, a business owner, had groomed her from the age of 12 and took her to Amsterdam where she was forced to have sex for money and sold her at auction.
Police later discovered that when Williams was in the Netherlands, Ramzan’s bank card was being used back home in Barrow. Her claims that he took her to Blackpool, threatened to kill her and where she was brutally raped by multiple men collapsed when video showed she was there alone and had watched YouTube in her hotel room, Altham said.
Ramzan said he received countless death threats from around the world on social media. He was in such despair that he tried to kill himself in front of his family, had his car windows smashed and his once-successful businesses were ruined, Altham said.
“I’m not sure how my family and I are going to recover from this,” Ramzan told reporters outside court. “The mud sticks and I fear it may take some time.”
The worst turmoil in three decades roiled Barrow, Altham said, with the town divided between those who believed police were complicit in a coverup of Williams’ allegations and others who feared vigilantes. The local newspaper was boycotted — and later folded — after reporting that Williams was under investigation for perverting justice.
Defense attorney Louise Blackwell KC said Williams maintains her allegations were true.
Williams offered an apology of sorts in a letter to the court saying, “I’m not saying I’m guilty but I know I have done wrong on some of this and I’m sorry.”
She said she never instigated any of the unrest in her community, but Altham said it was foreseeable that people of Pakistani heritage would be targeted based on her post.
“I’m devastated at the trouble that has been caused in Barrow,” she said in the letter. “If I knew what consequences would have come from that status I never would have posted it.”