Six years ago, a 14-year-old schoolgirl was briefly introduced to a girl called Georgia Bilham by a mutual friend.
The fleeting encounter lasted no more than a minute or so, and left no impression on the young teenager whatsoever. Now, however, she sees it entirely differently.
‘I think: ‘Was that it? Was it that meeting which led to everything? Did she deliberately target me?’,’ she asks. ‘Of course, I’ll never know.’
It’s just one of many questions haunting the girl, whom we’ll call Bella, who today talks for the first time about the ordeal which ultimately resulted in one of the more bizarre and troubling court cases of recent years.
Last week, Georgia Bilham, now 21, was found guilty of one charge of sexual assault after duping Bella, now 20, into a relationship that spanned several years — and throughout which Bella believed Georgia to be a boy called George Parry.
Last week, Georgia Bilham (pictured outside court), now 21, was found guilty of one charge of sexual assault after duping Bella, now 20, into a relationship that spanned several years
Throughout the relationship Bella (pictured) believed Georgia to be a boy called George Parry
Georgia was cleared of a further 16 allegations of sexual assault relating to further sexual contact, and is now awaiting sentencing later this summer pending psychiatric reports.
It is closure of sorts for Bella, although one which nonetheless leaves her struggling to make sense of the bizarre sequence of events that dominated most of her teenage years.
‘I opened myself up to this person, but everything they told me was a lie, and nothing was real,’ she says in this exclusive interview.
‘Most of all, I will never understand why she did what she did. I’ve asked myself every question under the sun about what happened, but I am no closer to working it out.’
That ongoing bewilderment is a sentiment shared by the public who followed the seven-day trial at Chester Crown Court, during which Georgia would turn up every day, with her long blonde hair and feminine clothes, to answer intimate details about the relationship she had with Bella.
Today, Bella still struggles to settle on the right terminology to refer to her former lover. On occasions she calls Georgia ‘the perpetrator’; on others ‘they’ or ‘them.’
Inevitably, though, the masculine pronoun creeps in. ‘I still call them ‘him’ sometimes,’ she says. ‘Because that’s who George was to me.’
Bella’s mum, who has accompanied her for our interview, reaches for her daughter’s hand. ‘I wish I could have done more to protect her,’ she tells me.
Mother and daughter are clearly close, and make up a tight-knit trio that includes Bella’s brother. They hail from Cheshire, and Bella, a strikingly attractive, open-hearted girl, would be the first to say she had an ordinary childhood.
Georgia (pictured dressed as ‘George’) was cleared of a further 16 allegations of sexual assault relating to further sexual contact
Like her peers, she was a devotee of the messaging app Snapchat, via which she was contacted in 2017 by someone calling themselves George Parry, who said his grandma lived in the area.
‘We started messaging and quickly became close,’ Bella recalls. ‘We talked about everyday stuff, but also our families and our problems.’
Little did Bella know ‘George’ was, in fact, Georgia Bilham, to whom she had been introduced in passing just a few months earlier.
‘George’ told Bella his mum had passed away and he now lived in Birmingham with his aunt.
In reality, Georgia lived with her father, Peter, in Tarporley, Cheshire, and had stolen the identity of another boy from Facebook, whose social media pictures she passed off as her own.
‘Not long after we started chatting, George also told me his father had died from alcoholism. He sent me pictures of the hospital where he had been taken,’ Bella says.
In fact, it was Georgia’s real-life grandfather who had been in hospital and had subsequently passed away — one of many bizarre deceptions in the spider’s web that Georgia wove.
As the months wore on, Bella and ‘George’s’ relationship became increasingly intense, and Bella confiding her innermost feelings and thoughts. The pair also left each other voice notes, George speaking in a low, deep tone.
‘The voice is the thing I still can’t get my head around,’ Bella says. ‘They never once let it drop.’
She plays me one of the many messages, which sounds undeniably deep and male.
‘How do you keep that up?’ her mum interjects, her bewilderment all too clear.
Then, later that year, ‘George’ said he would be in the area and suggested a meeting, the two rendezvousing in darkness on a bench at a local beauty spot.
‘George had his hood up, but it was so dark even if I had peered at his face I would not have seen much,’ Bella recalls. There was no physical contact between them during their two-hour encounter, although George had brought along what he said was one of his own Hugo Boss jumpers for Bella to take home.
It was a romantic gesture, but nonetheless Bella recalls feeling uneasy as she returned home
Bilham sat smiling outside Chester Crown Court waiting for the jury’s verdict earlier this month
Georgia pictured posing in a bikini on holiday in Spain
‘I didn’t feel I had met the same person I had been messaging,’ she recalls. ‘The energy was different.’
She subsequently blocked George on social media, telling him she thought he was ‘weird’ — a pattern that would be repeated several times over the next three years.
‘I got tired of being messed about,’ she says. ‘There were endless arrangements for George to visit, then nothing came of them.
‘I would end things, and so would they sometimes, but we always ended up going back to each other. I wouldn’t say it was love at that stage but there was something that drew me back to him.’
Giving evidence in court, Bella would later characterise her relationship with George as an unhealthy addiction.
Certainly, throughout the thousands of messages they exchanged, Bella repeatedly accused him of being dishonest.
Yet at no point did she think that he was lying about his gender.
‘It just did not occur to me,’ she says. ‘Why would anyone do that? But I felt there was a disconnect between the person in his social media posts and the person he was with me.’
Then, in April 2021, ‘George’ got in touch to say he was again in the area, and suggested they meet up in person once more — a proposal Bella now believes was linked to Georgia passing her driving test and having more freedom.
After picking her up in ‘his’ — in reality Georgia’s mum’s — grey Ford Focus, the two drove to a nearby McDonald’s, George once again wearing a hoodie.
‘One thing I noticed was that they kept fiddling with the mirror in the car,’ Bella says. ‘I now wonder if they were checking how much of their face was covered. ‘I asked several times why he wouldn’t take the hood down, but they talked about their anxiety and how it helped them to be covered up,’ she says.
During this encounter, George also asked Bella if he could take off her glasses to see how little she could see. ‘I’d told them several times that I’m lost without my glasses,’ she says.
It would not be until their
third meeting that the couple kissed for the first time, after ‘George’ drove them to another local beauty spot.
Today Bella squirms at the memory. ‘At the time it felt like it had been building up to this. Now it makes me feel sick,’ she says.
Not long afterwards, as they returned home, George lost control of the car, ploughing into a hedge. Although both were uninjured, they called the police, and during that interaction Bella heard an officer referring to George as ‘Georgia’ over the police radio.
Georgia pictured with her father Peter Bilham, 60, outside court
‘I was standing apart from George and I said to the officer: ‘The driver is a George Parry.’
‘He told me that Georgia was the name he’d been given. I was shaking — I couldn’t make sense of it, and I asked the police to take me home.’
In the back of the police car, she sent George a text demanding to know why he’d given a girl’s name to the officer. There came another, complex explanation involving false ID supplied by an ‘Albanian gang’ he’d got involved with.
‘They were relentless — message after message, saying: ‘Please don’t end what we’ve got.’ He had proof he was a boy, he could show me a passport, other ID.’
Bella acknowledges that from a distance, it sounds ludicrous.
‘But you have to remember that you don’t see what you’re not looking for,’ she says. ‘I never once thought he really was a girl. I had been manipulated from a really young age.’
And so the relationship continued to unfold. Night-time drives evolved into sneaking George into Bella’s bedroom, for furtive encounters which by now had become sexual.
‘George would do things to me, but if I tried to touch him he would jump out of his skin,’ says Bella.
Although the pair were sexually intimate, they never had full intercourse. Instead, ‘George’ — who insisted on wearing tracksuit bottoms, a jumper and a hood, even in bed — would perform sex acts on Bella, who said that on occasion while ‘spooning’ she ‘felt a willy-like figure’ against her leg.
‘Of course, I questioned him, like I did about him not removing his hood, but it was always the same thing — that he had huge anxiety, and didn’t want to reveal too much of himself.’
At this point Bella breaks down. ‘There was a battle in the back of my mind about what I accepted and what I didn’t. Ultimately, I wanted this person in my life, so there was a sense of ‘this is what it is — hopefully I can be the one who can make them open up and relax’. I always thought that, in time, that would happen.’
Certainly as the weeks wore on, Bella was struggling to make sense of the nature of her relationship with ‘George’.
Her mother, meanwhile, was nursing her own curiosity about this figure in her daughter’s life, whom she’d yet to meet, and resolved to meet ‘George’.
Bella’s mother recalls: ‘The next morning, I received a voice note from Bella’s phone from George, asking if I wanted anything from Starbucks. I asked for a hot chocolate, and he brought one into the living room. I was on a call so I only got to see him briefly in profile. I remember his hand shaking as he put it down on my desk.’
Later, she decided to go into Bella’s room. ‘I knocked and went in, and George literally jerked his head to the side so he could only be seen in profile,’ she recalls.
‘It was a hot August day, but the blackout blinds were drawn. I remember saying: ‘What are you doing sitting in the dark, you pair of weirdos?’.’
The encounter was peculiar enough that, later that night, a now suspicious Bella’s mother decided to draw a diagram with George at the centre and all the information she knew about him —the hood, the disconnect between the cheerful pictures her daughter showed her and the strange figure she had met — around the edges.
She thought about how he moved, and the peculiar femininity about his face in the rare, snatched glimpses she’d got.
‘Put together, it didn’t add up. I realised George was a girl, and I just burst into tears,’ she recalls.
The realisation was one thing —telling her daughter was another.
‘I sat her down the next day and said George hadn’t been honest with her and that I thought she was a girl.’
Initially, Bella couldn’t accept it. ‘I said: ‘You’ve got this wrong.’ By then, I knew George was lying — that he wasn’t the boy in the pictures he’d been sending me — but I still didn’t think he was a different gender,’ says Bella.
Still, the seed had been planted, and that night Bella did some detective work of her own — which, eventually, via a complicated social media spider’s web, led her to Georgia Bilham’s Facebook profile. ‘I realised that everything led to her,’ she says.
‘We had a friend in common whom I had messaged asking questions about Georgia. In one of those messages she confirmed that Georgia drove her mum’s grey Ford Focus. And that’s when it finally hit me.’
George was, in fact, Georgia Bilham, the girl she had first met in passing four years earlier.
‘I couldn’t comprehend it at all — I couldn’t process it,’ says Bella. ‘Why would anyone deceive someone like that? I felt sick to
She messaged Georgia, who confessed immediately, sending a string of heartfelt messages saying she had never intended to deceive her for so long, and could not explain why she had done it.
‘It didn’t help,’ says Bella. ‘I suppose part of me was hoping I was wrong. I was in complete turmoil. I didn’t reply. There was nothing I could say.’
She did, however, send a Facebook message to Georgia’s father, Peter, telling him what his daughter done, and suggesting she seek psychiatric help. ‘He replied, saying he would talk to her, but that was about it,’ she says.
Bella’s distress lasted for days. With her anguished daughter unable to sleep or eat, her mother finally took her to see a therapist who, after hearing her story, urged her to call the police.
‘It seemed such a strange suggestion,’ Bella says. ‘I had enjoyed being with George at the time, so how could I be a victim? I saw her as someone who needed urgent help.’
After her session with her therapist, and talking it through with her mum, Bella finally agreed to contact Cheshire Police, who sent an officer to see her the following day. ‘They took it incredibly seriously from the start,’ she says.
Even so, Bella was stunned when, several months later, she received a visit from the officer in charge of the investigation, telling her that Georgia had been charged and bailed on 17 counts of sexual assault. ‘I just hadn’t expected it,’ she says.
Under special measures granted by the court, Bella subsequently gave evidence prior to the seven-day trial at the start of June, and was cross-examined in a separate room by video link.
‘I was devastated,’ Bella says quietly of the verdict. ‘I can only say again that not once did I ever think she was a girl. If I had ever had that realisation, then why would I put myself in court?’
Bella has since found love with a new boyfriend, whom she has been dating for several months, and which, she says, has given her a new perspective on the time she spent with ‘George’.
‘I thought it was love, but now I’m in a healthy relationship with someone, I think it was more of an unhealthy obsession,’ she says.
The puzzling question as to why Georgia did it, meanwhile, lingers.
‘I don’t suppose I’ll ever know,’ says Bella. ‘I was in love with someone I thought of as George — and he didn’t exist.’
*NAMES have been changed.