Barrow: A Note on the Allegations and the Threats to Journalists

UPDATE (4 January 2023): The woman at the heart of the allegations, Eleanor Williams (also known as Ellie Williams) has now been convicted of perversion of justice. She was not named in the MailOnline article I discuss below, and as such I didn’t name her either in case there was some legal impediment.

A Tweet from Amy Fenton, a journalist at The Mail, a local paper in Barrow in the north of England:

Staying off Twitter for a bit. I’ve done what any self-respecting reporter would do. But I will NOT tolerate anyone threatening my daughter. I’m now under police protection. Ppl who have threatened me (eg attached) need to know – this is not acceptable. It is illegal.

The attached image shows a Facebook comment from someone going by the name Roger Crozier, who writes “Slit Amy Fenton’s throat while saying Islamic prayers for her”.

The Mail‘s editor, Vanessa Sims, has written of “increasing levels of abuse, intimidation and threats the team at The Mail have received” and of “a gang of 12 men to gathering outside The Mail offices shouting intimidating slurs and demands upon my reporters.”

Sims’s editorial is headlined “A message from the Editor after a Barrow woman is charged with perverting the course of justice”, and she refutes claims of “conspiracy between the press and the police to cover up crimes”. This appears to be a reference to three articles in particular.

On 21 May, Fenton wrote that

POLICE in Barrow have confirmed a lengthy investigation has found ‘no evidence’ of a gang of men exploiting young women in Barrow.

In a video statement, Detective Chief Superintendent Dean Holden, head of crime and safeguarding at Cumbria Police, revealed an investigation has been ongoing for over 12 months.

The video was recorded ‘in response’ to a series of Facebook posts made about sex abuse allegations.

Det Ch Supt Holden reveals ‘an individual has been charged with some offences’.

Two days later, Sims wrote up a court appearance, which explained that a “19-year-old has been charged with seven counts of perverting the course of justice relating to seven allegations made between 2017 and 2020” and noted she had been remanded into custody.

On the same day, however, Sims also reported 

EARLIER this week a teenage girl took to social media to report allegations she had suffered horrific physical and sexual abuse.

The woman in her late teens claimed she had been beaten, burned, drugged and trafficked for sex throughout the north of England by a gang of Asian men.

She posted graphic pictures of injuries including bruises, scratches and burn marks.

The report further clarified that this was the “series of Facebook posts made about sex abuse allegations” alluded to on 21 May.

The two 23 May reports were not explicitly linked, but they followed a 21 May article published by MailOnline, the online stablemate of the national Daily Mail (but no relation to The Mail in Barrow), that combined the two strands under the headline “Girl, 19, is charged with perverting course of justice after telling police she was drugged and raped by Asian sex gang in Cumbria”. Photos of her injuries were included, along with the extra descriptive detail that she had “black eyes”.

Unfortunately, the first impression given by the article was that the woman had been promptly charged with perverting the course of justice after presenting these injuries to police. However, a closer reading of the MailOnline text indicates that this was not the case:

Last night Cumbria Police confirmed it was investigating an incident of physical and sexual abuse that was reported by a woman in her late teens on Tuesday evening.

…Cumbria Police revealed on Wednesday that they had launched a 12 month investigation into claims of sexual and physical abuse by an organised gang…

…Today the force said the only charges to arise from the investigation was against a young woman. In a statement it said: ‘Cumbria Constabulary can confirm that a 19-year-old woman, from Barrow-in-Furness, is subject of ongoing criminal proceedings.

‘She was charged with seven counts of perverting the course of justice on 26th March 2020 and was released on bail.

‘She has subsequently been arrested on 20th May for breach of her bail conditions and has been remanded in custody, court date to be notified. ‘

This strongly implies that the new “incident” post-dates her being charged; it is not quite clear if the images are allegedly the result of what happened, or are older images newly uploaded. One may be tempted to speculate about how this “incident”might relate to the charges against her, or to seek out what the woman herself says about it on social media, but a newspaper must handle the matter cautiously at the moment. As Sims explains:

The UK law dictates strict rules the press, including The Mail, must follow when reporting ongoing legal proceedings such as these.

Often The Mail team knows much more than what we are legally allowed to publish but we are duty bound to follow rules so not to prejudice ongoing police investigations or court cases.

Such restrictions are well known – more than once in the past they have been flouted by Tommy Robinson, who then frames the legal consequences of his actions as state censorship and persecution. Robinson showed up at protest in support of the woman that took place yesterday – judging from clips on YouTube he was well received, although the woman’s family have rejected his involvement, telling The Mail:

“We want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with us and we do not want him involved.

“We are a peaceful family who condemns any form of racial hatred.”

Also supporting the woman is the respected advocate for grooming gang victims Maggie Oliver, who has used Twitter to promote a social media “justice” campaign set up on the woman’s behalf. Referring to the MailOnline article, she wrote “Far easier to blame the victim than embark on a complex investigation”, which gave the false impression that Cumbria Police are not investigating her apparently new injuries; and asked about why the story has not received wider coverage, Oliver suggested that “the authorities are very powerful and close down MSM”. The campaign has published further details and claims, including the suggestion that  one of the alleged gang members had boasted that the local paper was in his “pocket”. Oliver’s efforts to promote the campaign have now been commended by the celebrity television presenter Rachel Riley.

The Mail has also highlighted the impact of the allegations on innocent Asian business owners residing locally.

Note on the woman’s name

It appears that the woman has waived her right to anonymity – the justice campaign uses her name, and her social media posts both use her name and show her face (substantiating the facial injuries described by MailOnline). However, her name is not used in most of the mainstream media reports about her, and in the above I follow their lead for the time being. It may be that there is some other legal impediment to naming her that is being ignored on social media, or that posting on social media is not sufficient as a formal waiver if she were to object.

The terms “woman” or even “young woman” perhaps fail to convey the particular vulnerability of a 19-year-old who is still a thresholder adult, but “teenager” or “girl” could be misleading in other ways.