Eleanor Williams is the girl who lied and kicked up a storm.
The legacy of a young woman being found guilty of faking her abuse has cast a long shadow – potentially impacting other cases, with one genuine victim telling Sky News: “It makes us all look like liars.”
Williams, 22, was sentenced this week to eight-and-a-half years for perverting the course of justice.
In May 2020 she posted shocking photos of her injuries on Facebook and claimed she was being physically and sexually abused by “evil and clever men” and that an Asian gang had trafficked her to sex parties in her hometown of Barrow-in-Furness and elsewhere.
But then, after a police investigation and trial, a jury at Preston Crown Court found everything was a lie – that even the horrific injuries were self-inflicted.
The case took more than two years to come to court and long before the trial took place, Sky News spoke to a number of alleged victims who were troubled by what had happened in Barrow.
The problem was that Williams’ fake story echoed their own experiences.
One woman even told us her abusers had said she would end up in jail just like Eleanor Williams if she went to the police.
In many cases, women felt they’d not been believed by the authorities, and sensed that officers were investigating them, more than the men.
Speaking to us last year, Laura, not her real name, said: “It’s kind of a similar story to me, being exploited by lots of different men, and being taken to different areas.
“And then that she’s been arrested, that really, really scared me because I was like: ‘I’m talking to the police about a similar crime, what if I get arrested?'”
Many victims still think Williams did suffer abuse
It’s why, despite the conviction on compelling evidence, many alleged victims still think Williams must have suffered from some form of abuse.
‘Suzie’, who is a sexual abuse victim from the North East, feels the case has caused huge damage.
She said: “I think it makes us all look like liars and, well, with me and other girls, they just wouldn’t want to come forward.”
Indeed, when Eleanor Williams was sentenced, Judge Robert Altham said: “We are aware that sex trafficking of young females does occur.
“There is a risk that genuine victims will, as a result of this defendant’s actions, feel deterred from reporting it.”
One victim believes case was dropped due to Williams
But some women fear the case may affect police attitudes.
A young woman from Barrow told us when she reported sexual assault the case was closed not long after Williams’ Facebook post went up because, she thinks, the man she was accusing, although not named as a victim in the Williams case, was connected to her claims.
‘Kate’, not her real name, told Sky News: “I gave my bedding to them. I gave them my pyjamas.
“And then after they had all the evidence, they had my statement – we had an email saying there was no further action.”
She added she believed the police thought she might be another Eleanor Williams.
But Cumbria Police told Sky News that there was a four-month investigation into the teenager’s claims.
They added: “That investigation resulted in the arrest of the alleged offender on 11 June 2020. He was interviewed and denied committing any offences.
“The investigation continued. However, the man was subsequently informed on 19 July 2020 that he was released with no further action.
“This decision was reached following an evaluation of the evidence available to officers, which did not reach the charging threshold.
“The case was investigated by officers who were not involved in the Eleanor Williams investigation.
“To suggest that Eleanor Williams’ lying had any influence on this case being NFA’d [no further actioned] or resulted in the police not believing victims is completely baseless and false.”
Police say Williams’ crimes were revealed by force’s ‘diligence’
A CPS prosecutor involved in the Williams case, Wendy Lloyd, says her crimes only came to light because police were so diligent.
“This case if anything would demonstrate to true and genuine victims just how seriously these kinds of cases are investigated,” she said.
“Before the perverting the course of justice charges were preferred against Miss Williams, there was a lot of safeguarding around her and a lot of investigation into all the allegations she made.”
But the hard truth is that only a fraction of women who allege being raped actually get a prosecution and it is likely that a woman found guilty of lying will only make matters worse.