A 22-year old woman has been sentenced to eight and a half years after destroying the lives of three men, their families and their livelihoods, and sparking a wave of racially motivated hate crimes after fabricating claims the men sexually assaulted her – claims later proven to be unquestionably false.
Elanor Williams was found guilty of nine charges of perverting the course of justice.
However, the small town she lived in is still reeling from the very real impact that false sexual assault allegations can have on the lives of innocent people.
In May 2020 – just at the start of the Covid pandemic, Elanor Williams posted photos of horrific injuries to Facebook – cuts, bruises, a blackened eye so badly beaten it was swollen shut and a severed finger.
In the same post, Ms Williams also published a detailed account of being groomed, gang raped, and violently assaulted by a group of ‘Asian men’ (meaning men from the Asian subcontinent).
After the post went viral, the small English town of Barrow-in-Furness became a hotbed of racial hatred targeted at people from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other subcontinental nations, their families and their businesses.
Vigilantes decided to take matters into their own hands, on the behalf of the so-called ‘victim’.
Indian restaurants and businesses were repeatedly smashed up and vandalised.
There were angry protests. Most of the men falsely accused have left town, one of said he and his family received more than 500 death threats, while another said his wife had left him over the allegations. One man had ‘rapist’ spray painted on his home.
Fabrication and deceit
In the meantime, a ‘Justice for Ellie’ campaign was going viral. Her original post was shared more than 100,00 times and the story soon went beyond her hometown.
Two charities were gearing up to give her £10,000 each to ‘seek justice’ against the men who had allegedly committed such atrocious sexual assault offences.
During months of investigations, police could not find any evidence of the alleged ‘sex trafficking’; to the contrary, their investigations revealed through means including CCTV footage that the men were nowhere near where Ms Williams said they had been at the time, and footage of the complainant at those times revealed nothing of the sort had happened to her.
Rather, CCTV footage was found of the young woman purchasing a hammer, and forensic investigators concluded the wounds were self-inflicted.
Police gradually yet systematically uncovered an incredible web of deception – involving many people – including the men Elanor Williams alleged had assaulted her, and 60 women she alleged were sex trafficked along with her.
Police found fake social media accounts linked to Williams’ IP address, fake text messages supposedly from perpetrators, snap chats and six phones that Elanor used to keep the story alive.
The sentencing judge noted Elanor William’s allegations were “complete fiction.”
He also criticised her for showing “no significant signs of remorse”.
Widespread fall out from false allegations
During the time the case has been before the court and the media, there have been long discussions about whether social media companies should bear some of the responsibility for what happened.
The court heard during the trial that there were 151 crimes directly related to the original Facebook post, including 83 hate crimes.
Unfortunately the case is a very real example of the significant fallout that occurs from false allegations, not just for those who have been falsely accused whose lives end up ruined as they’re forced to leave their jobs, their homes and businesses, rebuild their lives, abandoned by friends, family, loved-ones, or left to contemplate suicide.
It also demonstrates how vigilantes can make things much worse, and can in some cases, hinder police investigations.
Cases like this not only destroy innocent lives, they can also stop real victims from coming forward.
A charitable organisation in Barrow-in-Furness which supports victims of sexual exploitation says it is already hearing from victims reluctant to report to police “for fear of being arrested like Elanor Williams.”
As the sentencing judge noted in the Elanor Williams case: her lies contributed to “an undermining of public confidence in the criminal justice system”.
Perverting the Course of Justice
Perverting the Course of Justice is an offence under Section 319 of the Crimes Act 1900 (the Act), which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. The Act defines perverting the course of justice as, ‘obstructing, preventing, perverting or defeating the course of justice or the administration of law’.
To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:
- The accused person engaged in an act or made an omission, and
- By that act or omission, the accused person intended to pervert the course of justice.
In New South Wales, a person can also be charged for making a false allegation against another person.
The offence of making a False Accusation
In New South Wales, making a False Accusation carries a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.
A person is liable to conviction for the offence where a false allegation leads to a significant police investigation (or a diversion of a police investigation to another person).
Section 314 of the Crimes Act 1900 states that a person who makes an accusation intending a person to be subjected to an investigation for an offence, knowing that the other is innocent of the offence, is liable to imprisonment for seven years.