Why did woman who made false rape and grooming claims tell such extraordinary lies?

By John Mercury March 25, 2024

Eleanor Williams’ mother broke down in tears as she absorbed the guilty verdict against her daughter, saying: “The person being portrayed in the media is not the person I know.”

It was too much for Allison Johnston to take. Had it all been a lie?

Warning: This article contains images people may find distressing

In January 2023, Williams – then aged 22 – was found guilty of perverting the course of justice. She had fabricated numerous stories and faked evidence to frame innocent men of rape.

She reported her false story to the police and posted her allegations on Facebook, claiming she was the victim of an Asian grooming gang in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, complete with images of horrific injuries – a swollen face, a pattern of bruises and cuts on her legs, arms and back.

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Why did Ellie Williams create elaborate lie?

Eleanor Williams' mother Allison Johnston
Eleanor Williams’ mother Allison Johnston

Her Facebook post had triggered protests and numerous hate crimes against Asian men in the community. Three men would later reveal the allegations against them prompted them to attempt suicide.

So why had this otherwise normal young woman constructed such extraordinary lies?

In the new Sky News podcast Unreliable Witness, we speak to friends, family and the men who Williams accused.

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March 2023: ‘I wish it was a longer sentence’

We uncover a key psychological report and delve into some murky secrets, finding other women on the fringes of this story, and other men in the shadows who were not part of the case against Williams – but were connected to her.

Our investigation takes many twists and turns and what becomes clear is that even though she’s been jailed, the shockwaves from her Facebook post still ripple through the community.

Eleanor Williams
The injuries Eleanor Williams claimed were caused by her attackers were self-inflicted, a court heard

Williams lived in a suburban, semi-detached house with her older sister, brother, half-brother, mother and stepfather. Home videos show a fun-loving teenager making kooky jokes with her sister. She was hard-working, holding down three jobs, in a care home, a pub and a nightclub.

But something changed. She became distant, moving out of her family home aged 18. Family, friends and work colleagues all noticed the same thing – she was regularly turning up with injuries.

Read more:
How Eleanor Williams’ false claims unravelled
Sexual abuse victims reveal impact of Eleanor Williams case
Introducing… Unreliable Witness

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March 2023: Lives ruined by false grooming claims

Williams’ sister Lucy told her she was going to go to the police to report the injuries, but Williams warned her off, saying: “It’ll bring more trouble. You don’t understand. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Lucy filmed threatening messages coming in on her sister’s phone via Snapchat, sometimes they included images of knives, machetes, and guns.

Eleanor Williams' sister Lucy says this image was sent to her sibling on Snapchat
Eleanor Williams’ sister Lucy says this image was sent to her sibling on Snapchat

Eleanor Williams' sister Lucy speaks to Sky's Jason Farrell
Eleanor Williams’ sister Lucy speaks to Sky’s Jason Farrell

Williams would go missing and turn up in other towns, seemingly drunk or on drugs.

So, were all these injuries self-inflicted? It was the prosecution case that they were. And often when she was found apparently drunk and drugged, police believed she was putting it on.

Having been at the trial, our team lays out the crucial evidence that shows how the jury at Preston Crown Court came to its verdict – that she had inflicted the wounds on herself using a hammer she bought just over a week earlier in Tesco.

At the heart of it all, this enigmatic young woman is now sitting in a prison cell. But how did an English town become riven with such bitter division over one person’s claims?

Why did she create such a web of intrigue? And as lies layered on top of other lies, what strange truth was hidden beneath?

From Sky News' award-winning StoryCast, Unreliable Witness looks at the story of Ellie Williams

Reporting with Liz Lane, specialist producer

Podcast series producer: Anne-Marie Bullock 

Executive producer: Louise Cotton 


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