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Channel 4 has commissioned WEB OF LIES: The Barrow Grooming Ring Scandal (working title), from Expectation, a 3 x 60 documentary series telling the story of the false grooming ring allegations that tore apart the remote coastal community of Barrow.

In May 2020, as the UK was emerging from the most stringent of lockdowns, 19-year-old Ellie Williams wrote a Facebook post that went viral. Alongside a photograph of her bruised and battered face and body, she said she was the victim of a grooming gang and had been raped and trafficked multiple times. Her post sparked outrage and protests in her hometown and across the UK, as supporters rallied round demanding justice for Ellie.

What nobody could have guessed though, is that two and a half years later, Ellie Williams would be found guilty on eight counts of perverting the course of justice, and accused of being a liar and a fraud.

Drawing on a rich seam of online archive, and with exclusive access to the men accused and a host of other key players – from internet sleuths to duped charity workers and local Asian restaurant owners – this is a stranger-than-fiction tale of how a shocking lie sparked a devastating wild goose chase, heaping pressure on the police and exposing a dark underbelly of racism in the process.

WEB OF LIES: The Barrow Grooming Ring Scandal (w/t) is a multi-perspective and multi-layered story, full of conflicting emotions and morality. In the wake of the Rochdale and Rotherham grooming ring scandals, it offers a unique lens on how gossip and innuendo can be weaponised against Asian men in overwhelmingly white communities.

This is a true-crime story that challenges every idea we have of what a victim or perpetrator is. And confronts some of the most controversial issues of our age: from false allegations and policing in an internet age, to mob justice and trial by social media.

WEB OF LIES: The Barrow Grooming Ring Scandal (w/t) was commissioned by Channel 4 Head of Documentaries Alisa Pomeroy and Documentaries commissioning editor Rita Daniels. The series will be directed by Sophie Robinson, recently BAFTA-nominated for her Channel 4 film, “My Dead Body”. It will be executive produced for Expectation by Colin Barr and produced by Sian Guerra.

Alisa Pomeroy, Head of Documentaries, said: “This story not only speaks volumes about race relations in modern Britain, but also asks probing questions about what we believe, who we believe and why. In the capable hands of Sophie and Colin, this will be a carefully balanced and sensitive series, exploring some of the burning issues of our times.”

Colin Barr, Creative Director, Factual/Factual Drama, Expectation said: “This is a story that connects to so many thought-provoking issues and challenging questions about the world we live in. Thankfully, in Sophie and Sian we have a director and producer who will confront those issues with a fearlessness and honesty which I know will make an unforgettable, high-impact series.”


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