The Eleanor Williams case
A lie ain't a side of a story. It's just a lie. - The Wire
In March 2023 Eleanor Williams of Barrow-in-Furness, England, was jailed for eight and a half years after conviction on nine counts of perverting the course of justice. She'd fabricated multiple accusations of rape and violent assault against named men and embellished her accusations with gruesome self-inflicted injuries to her face, using a hammer. The thirteen-week jury trial ended in a unanimous verdict.
Williams' victims had suffered terribly. One was twice sectioned under the Mental Health Act, the second time after a suicide attempt. A local businessman was falsely accused of leading a sexual grooming gang, with Williams as main victim. Jordan Trengove, just eighteen at the time of the accusations against him, spent ten weeks in jail on remand. People painted “rapist” on his house and broke his windows, and he had to move out of Barrow. Such barbaric vigilanteism is terrifying enough, but not as terrifying as the fear of what might be to come: probably twenty years in jail and the death of all aspirations to a fulfilling life.
It's hard to know what prompted Williams to tell these lies. What's her story? Personal revenge can be ruled out, because she didn't know some victims and hardly knew others, but a broader animus against all males is still possible. Naturally, psychologists engaged as experts by the two rival legal teams disagreed wildly about whether the false accusations could be attributed to some deep-rooted sorrow in Williams' life. The judge's summing-up dismissed the notion that any alleged trauma in the defendant's background should count as mitigation. Williams offered no explanation herself, and it's likely she genuinely doesn't know.
It's also hard to know what to do with such an offender. Like sexual crimes themselves, false sexual accusations are all different, and fair sentencing must balance complex judicial, social and psychological criteria. What was the false accuser's intention? Was it malicious? Was it elaborate and sustained, or just a small lie that got out of hand? At first I thought Williams' sentence was light, especially since she'll probably be out in a couple of years. However, we keyboard jurors – even more than armchair sports referees – need to remind ourselves we can't see the whole picture. In any case, almost all false accusers escape punishment completely, and it offers some satisfaction that this offender at least has to pay a price. Mr Trengove can be forgiven for saying that she should have been given “his” twenty years. This is also a common refrain on social media: to send all false accusers down for the same duration to which their victims are liable, but I'm not sure that such an eye-for-an-eye paradigm is how the law should work – though it's more moderate than one barbed comment that she should serve her twenty years in a men's prison.
However, almost all false accusers should be punished, as long as the evidence is clear enough to prosecute and convict. Yes, punished, not just helped with their “problem” – and that punishment often means jail, depending on the severity of the crime. I'm always astounded at the blinkered attitude of many feminists towards false sexual allegations. They insist, on no good evidence, that false allegations are rare. I won't explore how and why the statistics of false sexual allegations are misunderstood, because I wrote in some detail about those numbers in Figuring the Figures, on this site. In short, most sexual allegations are genuine, but false allegations are still very common. Of course, no one offering exact figures can be trusted.
As for the false allegation cases even these feminists can't deny, everything centres on the complainant. They insist that all false accusers are really victims and shouldn't be punished; the only issue about sexual crime worth considering is the number of perpetrators who get away scot-free. Many do, of course, but the reasons cases are abandoned are not always what they seem. It's true that the Casey Report into London's Metropolitan Police force suggested some sexual complaints have been dismissed at the outset as "regretted sex". Some certainly are, but any investigators who make that initial assumption aren't doing their jobs. "Believe the victim" produces injustice, but "Listen to the complainant" is essential practice.
There is no sinister plan to deprive complainants of justice. Rather, sexual crime tends to occur in private and leaves no forensic trail because it centres on perceptions of consent. Many genuine cases unfortunately don't meet the evidence threshold. If that threshold is lowered, more innocent people will go to jail. Some already do. I wrote about the complex reasons for attrition in sexual cases in the opening paragraphs of A Lesser Tragedy, also on this site.
The Williams case drew considerable media attention in the UK, and on March 14 it featured on Piers Morgan's panel chat show on Talk TV, Piers Morgan Uncensored. Morgan was bold enough to label her an “evil fantasist and serial liar”, and called for an urgent return to the once cherished presumption of innocence and repeal of the “believe the victim” assumption. Morgan asked one panellist, political columnist Ava Santina, why she would automatically believe an allegation. She replied, “Because we live in a country where women aren't believed.” She added that “The girl in question is really unwell.” She insisted prison is the wrong place for her, wouldn't rehabilitate her and “wouldn't be a safe environment.” Prison is certainly an awful place for all wrongdoers and seldom offers useful rehabilitation, but that punishment alone is still sufficient reason to send offenders there who – like Williams – have done serious harm to others.
By downplaying the suffering of the falsely accused men in favour of what she considers the wider picture, Santina shows she hasn't grasped the point that justice is – and must be – individual. Whether sexual complainants in general obtain justice has no bearing at all on the Williams case. There are no degrees of innocence; if these accused men didn't rape Williams they didn't rape her, and that makes them no more guilty of this crime than Santina herself is. Except, of course, for the fact that they're men and therefore considered the wrong gender to be victims. Is it supposed to count as a kind of justice to deprive them of their freedom as part payment for millennia of sexual predation of males on females?
False allegations featuring self-inflicted injuries are rare but not unheard of. I mentioned two in my book, Dry Ice: The True Story of a False Rape Complaint. One involved another young Englishwoman, Rhiannon Brooker, who was given three and a half years' jail in 2014 for falsely accusing her boyfriend of raping her as an excuse for having failed her legal exams. She faked injuries to suggest he'd beaten her, and even alleged he had caused a miscarriage by punching her in the stomach. Her boyfriend was held in custody for thirty-six days before police realised his alibis made her claims untenable.
Still some saw her as the only victim. Brooker's lawyer said, “Every day in prison would be agony” for her client, especially since she had become a mother shortly before sentencing. Of course, it's a lawyer's job to urge clemency, so we can give her more leeway here than Morgan's panellist Ava Santina. However, others also carped about the sentence. The Opposition justice spokesperson at the time, Emily Thornberry, considered Brooker had been treated too harshly. She said the government’s priority ought to be ensuring more rapists are prosecuted. The spokesperson at the time for Women Against Rape, Lisa Longstaff, emphasised “the terrible impact of prison on both of them” – that is, mother and child.
Another case occurred in the USA. In 2013 a serial liar from Michigan was jailed for five years for making a false complaint, despite having obvious mental problems. Sara Ylen said two men, both of whom she knew and had identified, burst into her home and violated her. She faked her own injuries and even “carved a vulgarity on her arm,” but the men had incontestable alibis. Ylen had accused another man of rape years earlier, and he was sentenced to a minimum of fifteen years. He was released from jail in 2012 after his conviction was finally overturned.
Her lawyer asked for a year in prison, but the judge was unmoved by this request. In sentencing, he said
“This is a tormented and disturbed woman who will go to extraordinary lengths to wreak havoc upon other individuals, potentially subjecting them to life in prison in order to gain sympathy and notoriety for herself.”
The lawyer who prosecuted Ylen was right to call the sentence “justice in its best form.” Granted, she was clearly deranged, but the repercussions of her offending were so far-reaching that anything less than several years in jail would be an injustice to the two men accused and especially the one jailed. Perhaps Ylen had an untold back story of deprivation, abuse or neglect, but there has to be a threshold of cruelty beyond which any such story loses its force, and nasty and damaging lies are just nasty and damaging. This is especially so since Ylen, like Williams but unlike Brooker, was a serial accuser. The police officer who investigated Ylen’s second rape allegation said, “My law enforcement side said I should have known better, but I saw her with my heart.” Police investigators do need to show heart, but to think with a different organ.
This is what the police in Barrow seemed to do in the Williams case. One justification that panellist Santina offered for considering her disturbed and in need of help was the fact that Williams had been reported missing from home thirty-two times in one year. However, the supervising police officer commented that all those occasions occurred after she started to be investigated as a likely fantasist.
The investigation unearthed the truth, but it's doubtful how much credit the police in Barrow deserve for this. It's depressing to think about how things would've turned out for the innocent men if Williams had been smarter – if, for example, she hadn't been careless enough to be caught on CCTV buying the hammer which she later used to attack her own face. She was her own worst enemy, because her multiple accusations in effect forced the police to keep investigating. Eventually they were bound to trip over undeniable evidence that would condemn her. The guiding question is this: how many other sexual allegations have put innocent men in prison, because they were made by false accusers smart enough to keep it simple?
For all of Santina's ferocious advocacy for unknown victims of sexual crime, it was another of Piers Morgan's panellists whom I found most dispiriting, even though he didn't get to say much. TV Talk presenter Richard Tice stressed the need to have all sexual cases handled by investigators who are “really skilled and qualified”. Everyone in the studio nodded at this happy and uncontroversial panacea, even adversaries Santina and Morgan. They all agreed the only obstacle was that it would take a lot of commitment and government funding, but it was a noble goal. And so it was that the sometimes heated discussion ended in a glow of reconciliation.
No! On any occasion when "experts" have been brought in to prescribe policy or law in the field of sexual accusations they have been inspired by modern feminist theory, and it has spelt trouble for the falsely accused because the goal has always been simply to attain more convictions. Acquittals are seen as shameful, a sign the system is stacked against “victims” and is failing. It's the "experts" who have espoused “believe the victim” and who have wanted to replace juries with compliant judges trained in “rape myths” (see Rape Myth Myths, on this site). It's the "experts" who would burden couples with specific verbal consent even in established relationships. It's the "experts" who would attribute to trauma any discrepancies in the stories of people like Williams, Brooker and Ylen. If the detective assigned to my own false allegation case hadn't been “expertly” trained to see a real victim through the obvious delusions of my accuser, it would have spared my wife and myself months of anguish and sleeplessness.
Lord save us from the "experts". What is needed is old-fashioned leg work done by police who are slaves to no narrative and who investigate rather than merely process.