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Fri, 17 Mar 2023 03:00
Why did Eleanor Williams, a young woman from a remote coastal town in England, pretend she was a victim of a grooming gang?. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/infocus
This is the Guardian. Hi, it's Mike. Today we have a special episode. It's about how one Facebook post from a young woman falsely claiming she was an abuse survivor, sparked a nationwide campaign for justice. But it also fueled vigilante violence, racist attacks, and ultimately ruined lives. Our north of England editor, Helen Pied, reports from Barrow Inferness. Today, how one woman's lies tore a town apart. Can you see the crack? Can you feel the crack here? Yeah. That's... So someone stood there and threw a brick but missed either window and hit the case in and cracked the case in. Then they picked up another brick and smashed this window. This is the voice of a man we're calling Hamza. No, the day we never got the perpetrators. One night in the summer of 2020, the Indian restaurant he ran in a port town in the north west of England was vandalised. All of these after. This entire site got smashed as well. Oh, so it wasn't just one round? His phone was already ringing off the hook. People threatened into coming to physical harm to us. We had people from Liverpool ring up, threatening to kill us. People threatened to rip my wife, kill my kids. I also received personal messages on my phone. Over the next few weeks, things got worse. Hamza saw business fall off a cliff. Like, on our business pages, we received an even more threat. Other people just spun in the page full of hate and hateful messages. This was all happening during the first lockdown. So at the time, his restaurant was running a delivery service only. Orders fell from 70 to 80 in a night to just two. Hamza started sleeping in the business to protect it. It was then that the attacks turned physical. As I was leaving the business, three people were right across and they were scared by it. One was shouting racist remarks. The second one had a bottle of beer and he just threw all of them a face. And then the third one, as he was running past saying, we're going to get you even better, worse later. And that bite I snapped. Got him a car, went after them. And luckily one of my staff members saw what had happened. I would have done anything that night, but I'm glad I didn't. Hamza knew why he was being targeted. On the 20th of May 2020, a Facebook post had been uploaded by a local teenager, claiming she'd been a victim of trafficking and sexual abuse by a group of Asian men. Within minutes, it had gone viral. No one was named on the original Facebook post. But an hour later, Hamza's restaurant appeared on a list that was being shared on Snapchat, claiming to show members of the grooming gang and the businesses where girls had been abused in the town. Many of those businesses were targeted just as Hamza's was. I never come across her. And to be honest, she's had such a profound effect upon my life. It's unbelievable that such a stranger could do this to someone's life. Hamza says he'd never met her. He knew that what had been accused of wasn't true. But for months, the racist abuse and the boycotting of his business went up. And if you ever totted up how much money you lost. Ran about, northwards of £80,000 plus. Maybe even more. That's a minimum figure. £80,000. For Hamza and many of this, it would take years for the full truth to emerge. I'm Helen Pied, North of England editor at The Guardian. Today in focus, how Eleanor Williams' abuse allegations unraveled. Barrow Inferness is an industrial town on the Cumbrian coast that was once a major shipping hub. It has one key industry left, the construction of nuclear submarines. They're built in massive steel sheds which haul cove with the rest of the town. If the skies are clear, you can see right across the lake district fells from the town. But most locals would agree. It's seen better days. The streets aligned with boarded up shops and rowdy pubs. Simon fell as the local MP. Barrow is a peninsula in the middle of nowhere. It's really hard to get to. And local people call it the road that goes in and out of it. The longest coldest hack in the world. And they do it for a reason. We are a long distance from other places. There's a sense of community there that other towns are on the coast or post-industrial. Don't have it. It comes from the physical geography of the place. Usually what happens in Barrow stays in Barrow. But all that change with a Facebook post from a 19 year old called Eleanor Williams on the 20th of May 2020. The obvious thing to remember is just the images in there. They were shocking, absolutely shocking. I a long time ago used to work in child internet safety. We used to look at it. Just the most horrific images. And this was as bad as some of that stuff that I saw 15, 20 years ago. And the fact it was local. And it was a girl yeah, based in the community making accusations about other people in the community. It just wasn't quite sure where to turn. The Facebook post, which ran some more than 1300 words, showed pictures of Ellie covered in bruises with a deep black eye and a severed finger. Ellie claimed that the day before she'd been put into the back of a car and taken to an address to have sex with three Asian men. After that she was beaten for not attending parties because of lockdown. Within hours the post had received thousands of likes from within Barrow and far beyond. A campaign called Justice for Ellie began with the logo of a purple elephant. The elephant started appearing everywhere. I remember one day I was pushing mental health leaflets through people's doors. And probably one door in five had a picture of an elephant in the window. And this is Ellie, the elephant in support of Ellie. And it was really heartfelt. People got behind this movement. They thought there was a massive injustice being done and a local family was at the heart of it. A local counsellor called Shane Yerl from Essex, a total stranger to Ellie, set up a crowdfunding page and raised funds for her. He managed to raise £22,000. Dozens of other young women came forward and said that Ellie had given them the courage to tell their own stories of abuse. People started meeting for rallies and solidarity. In the weeks that followed, those rallies continued, sometimes getting nasty. They caught the attention of the far right. Ellie's story tapped into fears that girls in Barrow had fallen prey to the sort of grooming gangs that were uncovered in Rochdale and Rotherham, where at least 1,400 girls were abused in the late 90s and early 2000s. I've covered loads of these cases. When the victims tried to report the abuse, not only were they often not believed, but they sometimes ended up arrested themselves and prosecuted while their groomers walked free. And the fact that the abusers were disproportionately Asian, predominantly Pakistani, led to a backlash against those communities. And these divisions were exploited by far right figures, like Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League. It was perhaps inevitable that within a few days after Ellie making that Facebook post, Tommy Robinson was on his way up to Barrow in a mini bus with a film crew in tow. And then obviously this story by this Ellie go was blew it up. There's so much to be up. The local police were under huge pressure. It wasn't just the protests. They watched in horror as hate crimes tripled. It started with the restaurants and takeaways which had been named on the Snapchat list of businesses associated with Ellie's ordeal. And then it became more widespread with Asian doctors, pharmacists and even tourists being racially abused. But back then, police weren't able to tell the whole truth about what was really going on. In reality, things were much murkier. And some of those who knew Ellie suspected that she might not be telling the whole truth. Chloe is 21. She lives a few streets away from where Ellie Williams grew up in an area called Wallney Island. Locals say it's the posh bit of Barrow, over a bridge from the town centre. Chloe isn't a real name. She was in the year below Ellie at school. When I meet her at home she's with her mum and is carrying a rosy-cheeked baby girl. So how long have you lived in Barrow on Wallney Island? On my life, 21 years. I've never moved. Have you ever met Ellie Williams? Yeah, numerous times. And what's Ellie like and what was she like growing up? She had a lot of like, I won't go as far as issues but a lot going on in school. She won't go to school. She'd always stay out of a lesson. But something was going on with Ellie. And no one knew about it. Like she was just very, very acting, very strange in school. Chloe didn't know Ellie well, but she always felt she was troubled. But their experience of growing up in Barrow was otherwise pretty similar. So we're on Wallney Island now where you live and where Ellie grew up. Like would you hang out at the beach? No. No. No. No. No. No. Like it's always too cold. It's freezing. No, we normally just like the back straight, just typical tiniere just sitting in a back, shoulders of the park down about five minutes walk. That's about it. There's nothing else to do. Despite noticing that Ellie didn't seem in a great place at school, Chloe was as shocked as everyone else when she saw the Facebook post. She was certain that Ellie had been attacked. I seen it probably the same day she put it up. It was just constant. It was absolutely vital. The stuff that I seen. I was like, how could you do that to someone? Like everyone else she knew, Chloe bought some justice for Ellie merchandise and she started going to the support rallies in her elephant t-shirt. But despite that, something about Ellie's claims didn't ring true. And when you read Ellie's Facebook post and she talked about being taken to what she calls sex parties and Asian men were forced to get to have sex, I had you ever heard rumors that that sort of thing was going on in Barrow? Never. But it definitely seemed like something was going on. Ellie's behaviour continued to be erratic since she left school. She was regularly seen out and about with injuries, bruises, black eyes, scratches. It wasn't unusual for her to not turn up to work or to go missing for days at a time. Chloe felt sure that Ellie was a victim of something. She just wasn't sure whether it was exactly what she was telling the police. Only I seen her with like a scratch from about her ear right down to like collarbone. I've seen her bruises round her neck and stuff like that but you don't think of anything. Like she's been kidnapped and all this stuff and dropped and you'll never go to that round here because it's never really happened. It's never been a story to happen round here. For Chloe, Ellie's injuries were a mystery and so were her claims of a sex trafficking ring in Barrow. But soon she found herself caught up in the story. I don't even know how I've got involved. I literally just had the police round out the blue. They said I was named by Ellie Williams that I was at these parties in Markham and was it Preston? Markham in Preston, not the case Tom. So I explained to them that I wasn't involved and it's absolutely nothing to do with me and then it sort of took my statement, left it about six months later. I had them round again for another date that she gave. I was like absolutely not. Like the first time I told you it wasn't me. Ellie told the police that as many as 60 girls, half of them from the local area, had been involved in these sex parties. She gave them a list of names. Chloe was on it. But as officers went from door to door, they were met with blank faces. None of the girls knew what they were on about. The reality was that even though every single one of Ellie's sex abuse allegations was being investigated by a comeyre police, detectives had also begun to suspect that she might be lying. Ellie had been known to police for a few years. She'd first accused a teenage boy of rape when she was 16, back in 2017. A year and a half later, by May 2019, she went further. She told police that she'd been raped three times by an 18-year-old local lad called Jordan Trengove. Jordan's a pale, thin young man who seems to have had the stuffing knocked out of him. When I meet him it's 5pm, but he's still in his dressing gown. Jordan was released from custody, but within days, police were back at his door. Jordan was released from custody, but within days, police were back at his door. And then a day later, the police came back again and arrested me for another one. And then the third one was whenever I sent to prison. The police came to my house because my window got smashed and I had ripped, I had spread painted on my wall. And I ran the police because of it. And the police came and arrested me instead of coming in and investigating my window. Ellie told officers that she'd been raped on three separate occasions by Jordan. The first time was after a night out in Barrow on the 8th of March 2019. The thing is, Jordan had an alibi. The various friends told police that they'd been with him when he was supposed to have raped Ellie. One girl insisted that she had had sex with Jordan that night. On the way home, the pair were picked up by police after officers spotted Jordan having a scuffle by the taxi rank. The girl even took a selfie of the pair of them in the back of the police van. And pushing me this whole time, you were saying this is nonsense. I did. Yeah, I gave them my phone, I gave them my phone, I gave them my Xbox, I said to them, I want all the in there done. I was, and that was before they even asked about it, a body map. What's a body map? Where they check for bruises on me to see if I was in a fight with Ellie. So they checked me for bruises and there was no bruises, no markings, nothing come from me. And they said, this is it, you got a gel now, I was just charged. Jordan was denied bail and spent 10 weeks in prison on remand. And had you been to prison before? No. So you're 18 years old and sent to prison? What was that like? It was very, very scary and I was putting in a cell with actual rapists and sex offenders, pedophiles. While Jordan was locked up in prison, Ellie started to go AWOL more often. In one year, her mum reported a missing 32 times. In July of 2019, she told police that she was being trafficked by a grooming gang and forced to attend what she called sex parties across the country and abroad. We've got a hold of an interview she gave to police on the 6th of July, describing a trip to Blackpool. The police tape is poor quality, but Ellie's describing being in a flat with a group of other girls. They're being allocated to different men for sex. The ringleader of this group, she claimed, was a businessman who lived in Barrow. Okay, well, I am named Mohammed Ramzan and I'm an ice cream operator vendor. Mohammed goes by the name Mo Ramey and he's a big local character. He dresses like his impekey blinders with a flat cap, braces. He often says he's no angel. He has a criminal record and he spent time in prison. I have a lot of business contacts in there. I'm a lot of family in Holland. I've come, I've always been years, I've come on God. He runs a chain of ice cream vans and has a number of other businesses in Barrow. The first time he was arrested in this case was the 7th of July 2019. Well, basically I got arrested on the promenade sport as I got arrested. They had to be on the pavement and I then started searching the car and there's like six on police officers popped out nowhere. Then obviously the graphics of it came out. You modern day slavery, due to exploitation, sexual, what kind of rubbish is this, this nonsense that checked me in, locked me up. She was a sad, sad sad kid. I'll let the shardick get us. Ellie claimed that she'd met Moe when she was 12 or 13 at a family party and they started pimpin' her out to friends and strangers. This included that trip to Blackpool that Ellie was describing to police earlier. Ellie also claimed that Moe had sent her overseas to Ibiza and to Amsterdam, where she was sold to the highest bidder at a brothel. Did they basically say to you, we think you are the ringleader of a sexual exploitation? Yes they did. That's what they thought they were doing with Cooper's biggest ever grooming ring. And you were supposed to be the kingpin? Apparently I was meant to be, yeah. Yeah, they did and that was a shock to believe. And it's not nice to have your name to be linked to that or tarnished with that or to be that catacombs. These trips were not too hard for police to investigate. Ellie's passport record showed that she'd never been to Ibiza. She had been to Amsterdam but on a trip to celebrate her 18th birthday with a sister Lucy and Lucy's boyfriend, Moe Rami was able to produce an alibi for everything. How easy was it for you to provide alibi's for all these occasions when Eleanor William said that you had trafficked her to Blackpool Ibiza Amsterdam? Easy because you could check flight records. I went when I was travelling when I wasn't. I'd give them all my form. All this confirmed what come to be a police already suspected. They've been pouring over flight records, mobile data, CCTV footage and they were now convinced that Eleanor had made most or all of it up. On 20th July 2019 she was arrested on suspicion of pervert in the course of justice. For Moe things went quite a familiar year. Then Eleanor went viral on Facebook with that first post. Halas it was absolutely horrendous. After you've been arrested you still live in this ordeal but you're dealing with a few minorities and then one day would wake up after that every single house in this street had just accept that one right down at the coasts had justice for any porsters. Every single one it was it became torture. It was torture. It was like a man a hundred. Moe says he received hundreds of death threats. Bricks were thrown at the shop and his windows were smashed. Things got so bad that he temporarily moved out of Barrow. So when Eleanor's Facebook post first appeared she'd already been charged with perverting the course of justice but she didn't mention that. And so when a report appeared in the local newspaper saying that she'd appeared in court there was confusion and there was outrage that she was the one in the dark. It really fueled the idea that yet again police were going after the victim rather than the groomers and there were accusations of a cover. Police watched helpless as tens of thousands joined the justice for Ellie movement. We know and offensive we love you to jail. We love you to court eventually. Every one of you because we are not going away and our numbers are filled entirely by the thousands. I went to Barrow Police Station to meet the man in charge of the investigation. Doug Marshall and police staff senior investigator officer Cumbria police. And so you got on board in the summer of 2019 and talk us through what you thought you were dealing with at that point. Well the reason I got brought in at that point was because we thought we were dealing with a case of human trafficking and grooming and as had had some previous history of dealing with child abuse it was thought to be a good fit to take this case on but all very quickly it developed into something totally different. Ellie had been picked up by police in July 2019 after a minor incident. Officers noticed there was unusual activity on her phone. And she did appear to be getting a large number of contacts on the phone from men and it was on that basis really that suspicion began to develop she might be involved in some criminality that she was a victim of. So it was the police not Ellie herself who first raised questions about potential grooming. And it was then that this discussion about being involved in what she called sex parties. And provided lists of various people and Snapchat accounts and then subsequently she went on to provide lists of other girls she said that were victims of the same type of abuse that she was suffering. Just remember thinking we have to try and safeguard these girls and we have to do a thorough investigation and try and arrest the people responsible. This was the list of 60 girls that Ellie gave to police who she said had also been trafficked. Chloe who we heard from earlier was one of them. But for detectives things didn't add up. And what was the point where you started to think she might not be telling the truth here? Mr Ramzam is actually in custody on the day that I took the case over and Miss Williams was going back to things when she was 12 and it was obvious that there's so many things been mentioned that it was going to take many hours, sometimes hundreds of hours of interview in the Nord to extract all that information. So what I decided to do was to focus on the most recent event that been mentioned which was this black pill trip. Because my thinking was that if we focused on that we could do warrants, we could retrieve forensic evidence, we could arrest people and that would give us a good basis to start the inquiry by getting those people into custody. And then how quickly and how did you establish that she wasn't telling the truth about the black pill trip? And we did a massive CCTV troll you know for that period. However the results were a bit baffling to start with officers attended roughly over 50 hotels in the black pill area eventually found a one and where she'd stayed at. We were then able to get CCTV ever booking into the hotel. We had CCTV of her wandering out of the hotel on two occasions, wanted to get some sweets at a local shop, wanted to buy a pot noodle at a supermarket, so she hadn't been at any places at all. The thing is a lot of what Ellie was doing online was actually quite sophisticated. At one point she had six phones and some of them were specifically to send fake messages to herself as certain characters. Police started to realise that she was creating new characters to bolster each allegation, changing the names of real people in her phone to make them look like rumours. Obviously there was a mixture of people on the contacts of people that have been totally made up and people that were real people. Meanwhile Jordan Trengove, who Ellie had accused of rape, was in a prison cell. Doug Marshall was working on both cases and he realised that the allegations Ellie had made against Jordan were not likely to be reliable. He went to the Crown Prosecution Service and said that Jordan should be released and the charges dropped. Do you feel bad about what happened to Jordan Trengove? Well I think you would be human if you didn't feel bad for Jordan Trengove. I mean, you know he was a man that uncomvicted of anything who's you know suddenly you know rested multiple occasions for something haven't done. Not only remained in custody but then ends up on a sex offender's wing. I mean you know you wouldn't be human if you didn't have some feeling for that. In March 2020 Ellie was eventually charged over the lies she'd been telling police. Ellie's trial started in October last year just before she turned 22. She was facing eight counts of pervert in the course of justice and had already pleaded guilty to one. She'd been in prison for most of the previous two and a half years and she changed a lot in that time. She'd grown her hair long, she'd lost a lot of weight, she looked tiny and vulnerable sitting on her own in the dock behind the glass. Despite the massive outpouring of public support online, most days there was no one in the public gallery to support her. Cumbria police spent months looking into her in the Williams allegations. She got help from a local women's charity here. The police put her up in hotels to keep her safe but the prosecution in her trial said that she was charged with perverting the course of justice when the police discovered that her allegations which spread around this town like wildfire were in their words a pack of lies from first to last. The jury was shown evidence that Ellie had self-inflicted her injuries. The bruises, black eye, cuts. Her DNA was found on a hammer left in a field after the battering she posted on Facebook. The court was shown footage of Ellie buying that hammer in Tesco just a couple of days previously along with a bottle of shampoo and some greeting cards. Her trial at Preston Crown court heard that she also fabricated evidence to support her claims like her injuries in these photos. The jury was told she caused them to herself with a hammer. The jury took just three and a half hours to find Ellie unanimously guilty of eight counts of perverting the course of justice. A woman from Barrow Inferness has been found guilty of perverting the course of justice after falsely claiming on Facebook that she'd been groomed, trafficked and beaten by an Asian gang but a jury at Preston Crown court today decided that she'd made it all up. Ellie's mum was in court for the verdict and so was Jordan Trengov who went to prison because of Ellie's lies. There was disbelief that after the justice for Ellie campaign had swept through Barrow and beyond in the summer of 2020 it was all made up and then there was that crowd funder the 22,000 pounds which had now been handed over to the family. It wasn't clear what had happened to the money. Coming up Ellie is finally sentenced but can the people she accused move on. Ellie was sentenced over two days this week at Preston Crown Court. I went down there with my producer Lucy. We're waiting in the security queue outside Preston Crown Court. It's blowing up a visit and we are going in to find out finally what prison sentence Ellie Williams is going to get. So talk us through what's going to happen today and also what happened yesterday because we were in court for a really long day. Give us a sense of what went down. I was kind of surprised how emotional I found it being in court yesterday. The thing that affected me most was the victim impact statement from the men that Ellie had falsely accused. Like three of them said that they tried to kill themselves as a result of being falsely accused. One of them said that he was even sectioned. He was sectioned twice as a result of the trauma and that really brings home to you just how horrendous it is to be accused of rape. I mean I was hoping for a bit of insight into her psyche, into her childhood, anything basically. I was grasping. I wanted to know like is anything that can explain this? We got a few hints. There was some suggestion that she might have complex PTSD as a result of childhood trauma but we didn't really hear any details and I'm not sure if the judge is going to take that too seriously today. And the sentence thing is going to be broadcast isn't it? Yes, fairly new thing with high profile cases that they allow cameras into court just to record the judge. So if you watch it on TV you won't get to see Ellie's face but you'll be able to see the judge read his remarks. We've just got to the front of the queue so we'll go through the revolving doors and see what awaits Ellie Williams. It is troubling to say the least that she shows no significant sign of remorse even continuing to profess the truth of her allegations. The only flicker of appreciation of what she has done came today with a brief note read by her counsel regretting the effects of her post on the 20th of May 2020. The harm of this offending extends to an undermining of public confidence in the criminal justice system. 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. People may be less likely to believe their allegations. The judge handed down a sentence of eight and a half years to Ellie Williams. He said he'd taken account of not just the seriousness of her crimes but also her age and her vulnerabilities. He told us she should have realised that her post would incite others to behave in anti-social and unacceptable ways. Outside court Jordan Trengo spoke to a scrum of reporters. Well I've tried ending my life over it. I've had a bond with my son. I've not been able to leave the house. I've not been able to go out of work. I've not been able to walk away for a bit longer. It's just a bit of a relief. I wish it was longer a sentence. I do think I'll be able to move on with my life a little bit but as bad as it sounds I do think I'm going to move out of the area. So I'm not in the same area as when she's released. Ten of the jurors had come back to court just to see Ellie be sentenced. Afterwards they crowded around Jordan and Mo, giving them hugs and handshakes. I'd never seen that happen before. I managed to pull Mo to one side. So Mo, 8.5 years is that enough? It is. Like I said I'm happy with the verdict of the guilty and the buttonembers just give that. I think it's enough and she can use the time positively and do if there's any need of anything they've been doing and of course there's any rehabilitation, act of rehabilitation. That need to be addressed. As long as she does that I think we're good. And Jordan and some of the other men that she falls to accused have said in court that they don't think they're ever going to recover from this. How do you feel kind of looking ahead to the future now? As a trial started I did have this thought. I did think I'm never going to recover. I do still feel sometimes but that is me putting in a barrier myself at stopping my recovery. Ellie's sister Lucy and their mum Alison sat at the back of the public gallery listening to the judge. Afterwards Alison seems sad but relieved. I was just expecting a longer prison sentence for LA and you know I think the judge has been really fair in taking into account a rage and a vulnerability is and you know for her to be able to move on and find a life as well she's really young. So how did you feel when the judge is going through the different ideologies? It's really hard to listen to. And it's really difficult to accept that she's responsible for all the things that is said but in the eyes of a Laura I've got to accept that. As you know there's an appeal going in so we'll just have to wait and see what happens from that. But the moment I'm really pleased and that's how I want to stay. My thoughts are with Ellie and getting her through the next couple of months and you know supporting her. The Hams are back in Barrow, business is now doing much better. We go and see him on a Monday night when the restaurant is basically full. Yeah, it was pretty alright, start as all kiffy. Yeah, yeah, is our restaurant set these away? Yes, thank you. Nearly three years on Ellie Williams' lies are still impacting him and his family. So how long did it last then this boycott just having a trickle of orders a night? Still not at a hundred percent, we're still about 85 percent there. Obviously mud sticks around there so people still think well it might not be true all of it but some of it might be true. And we were at Barrow Police Station today talking to the police about all sorts of things to do with case in the long term effect and they said that they know of at least one person, an Asian person who left Barrow because they were full of the accused and have never returned. Was there ever a point where you thought I can't do business in this town anymore? Yes, I'll be honest, but I was brought up to stand up for what I think is right. It's kept open to shorter people, I've got nothing to hide and I will not bend down to these people that think they will shut us down and shut a business. People's livelihood because of this girl that's made up false allegations. No way, I would never let that happen. I took it right to the end and I'm glad I did because I'm still here. And why do you think she made this stuff up? I really don't know and I would love to know. I'd love to know what has gone on and why why it happens, like just I just want to know why future victims, actual real victims of such crimes maybe scared to go involved with now because of her actions and that's a consequence of that. They will suffer more at the end of the day because they may be too afraid to come forward because of this case. There are so many reasons this incredibly unusual case sparked a wave of vigilante justice. People remember police failures in Rochtdale and Rotherham. And like those cases, Ellie's story was exploited by the far right. Ellie's post went up several months into the first lockdown, bored at home, spending too much time on Facebook. Many people became more vulnerable than normal to online conspiracy theorists and agitators. Now for the last three years, people became obsessed with Ellie Williams. As a reporter, I was one of them. Theories still abound about what really happened. Some say it could be linked to drugs, others to childhood trauma. We may never know. She's still insisting everything she said is true. Ellie Williams was just one young woman from a remote coastal town with a Facebook account and an axe to grind. Who'd have thought that would be all it would take to destroy trust in the police and divide a small community? That's it for today. This episode was produced by Lucy Hough, sound designed by Solomon King and Rudy Zagadlo. The executive producers were homicollily and film aint ad. Today in focus will be back on Monday. If you're looking for more Guardian podcasts, pop culture with Shantae Joseph is returned, with more sharp-witted analysis, special guests, and insights into what's trending. Search for it wherever you get your podcasts. This is The Guardian.