Eleanor Williams’ case put Barrow ‘through the wringer’, says local MP

Eleanor Williams’ case has put Barrow “through the wringer”, local MP Simon Fell said.

Williams, 22, was convicted on Tuesday at Preston Crown Court of perverting the course of justice after claiming that she had been the victim of an Asian grooming gang.

Reacting to the verdict in a post on his website, Barrow & Furness MP Mr Fell said he hoped that the local community could “heal” and “learn lessons that will better protect genuine victims”.

Williams’ accusations went viral in May 2020 after she published pictures of her injuries and an account of being groomed, trafficked and beaten on Facebook, in a post which was shared more than 100,000 times.

The Facebook post sparked demonstrations in her home town of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, and led to former English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson visiting the town to “investigate” the claims.

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Mr Fell said that he received a “deluge” of messages from constituents in the aftermath of Williams’ Facebook post.

“The message from a constituent was to the point: ‘What are you going to do about it?’,” he said.

“Soon, there were a deluge of messages. From parents concerned for their children, teachers for the community, community leaders concerned about Barrow’s reputation, and then from some of the accused too.”

He said that “vultures” began to “circle” the town and the story, including far-right activists.

He added: “And, as with any story like this, the vultures began to circle – those who make their money and reputations out of others’ misery, whether selling books or advertising on their websites.

“The far right were the most obvious and insidious, with the indignity of Tommy Robinson whipping up tensions still further in pursuit of ‘justice’ being perhaps the icing on the cake.”

He said his surgeries were soon “peppered” with families whose lives had been “torn apart” by the allegations made against them.

“For many people frustrated with being locked down, of reading about a great injustice being done to one of their own, this provided a perfect opportunity to vent steam,” he said.

“But for a sad minority it spilled out to violence and intimidation. Soon my surgeries were peppered with families who had been torn apart by the allegations made against them, and local people who feared for their and their children’s safety due to the colour of their skin.”

Mr Fell said that despite the resolution the guilty verdict may bring, there were no winners in the case.

“People’s lives have been ruined as a result of her stories, and Barrow has been put through the wringer”, he said.

“One man spent time in prison due to her (false) allegations. Others saw their windows put in. Or received death threats. Others still left town and have not returned. And trust in the police has been shaken.”

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In spite of the damage Williams has caused the community, Mr Fell said that he hoped that she receives “the help she needs”.

“It may be her stories that provided the fuel for this fire, and which have unleashed genuine hurt on people and the wider community, but at the end of the day, no person commits the kind of physical abuse against their own body that we saw in that first Facebook post, or fabricates the lies that she did, unless that are deeply unwell,” he said.

“I hope she gets the help she needs.”