In May 2020, Ellie Williams posted an extraordinary Facebook message. 'This is the hardest post I’m ever going to write...' she began, before detailing horrifying sexual and physical assaults she said she’d suffered for years at the hands of an Asian grooming gang. Her post was accompanied by photos of her horrendous injuries – bruises, cuts, an eye swollen shut, a severed finger.

Ellie’s message quickly went viral, prompting a flood of support in her hometown of Barrow-in-Furness and beyond, as thousands reposted and demanded action. But, shockingly, it was Ellie herself who was arrested. She was charged with seven counts of perverting the course of justice and accused of making multiple false allegations.

The police struggled to contain the public anger - it seemed incomprehensible that a young woman had been arrested and remanded in jail for speaking out about rape, trafficking and grooming; and a further damning example of police shortcomings in investigating this type of crime. Unable to talk about the case as it risked prejudicing the anticipated prosecution the town’s police station was besieged, local Asian-owned businesses were attacked and demonstrations spread to other northern cities.

Ellie was convicted three years later after a meticulous police investigation and sentenced to eight years in prison. The judge described her account as 'complete fiction' – but its impact was real. The effect on the men she falsely accused of rape and trafficking was devastating.

Now, for the first time, the truth about Ellie’s claims can be laid open. Liar: The Fake Grooming Scandal is an hour-long film for the BBC featuring never-before-seen police footage. For the first time we hear from the officers at the heart of the case, the specialist detectives who treated Ellie as a victim of serious crime until they realised they were investigating something very different. The documentary examines why Ellie's allegations resonated so strongly, and the devastating impact they had in Barrow and beyond.

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Extraordinary, giving the viewer a ringside seat

The Times