Police reports that several people stood by and did nothing while a man raped a woman on a moving train in the US have been debunked after surveillance footage was reviewed.

The attack took place around 11pm on October 13 in the US city of Philadelphia.

The attacker, identified from CCTV images as Fiston Ngoy, subjected his victim to an eight-minute ordeal as the train ran through the Philadelphia suburbs.

The video shows that – while there were witnesses to the attack – none of them recorded footage of the incident as had previously been alleged.

Referring to the sexual assault on the SEPTA Market-Frankford elevated train, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said “There is a narrative out there that people sat there on the El train and watched this transpire and took videos of it for their own gratification”.

“That is simply not true," Stollsteimer said. "It did not happen. We have security video from SEPTA that shows that is not the true narrative.”

He says that while a “handful” of people getting on and off the train between Philadelphia to the 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby might have seen the attack taking place, it’s quite possible that they didn’t realise what was happening.

“[The train] is moving, so this is an incident that’s happening over time. So, people are getting in and out of the car. They may not all have been aware at any time what would happen previously,” he explained.

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Police superintendent Timothy Bernhardt had previously told reporters that several passengers had recorded video of the assault taking place: "I’m shocked, I have no words for it,” he said. "I just can’t imagine seeing what you were seeing through your own eyes and seeing what this woman was going through that no one would step in and help her."

Stollsteimer has now corrected Bernhardt’s statement, saying that while two people may have recorded video of the attack on their phone, one of them was “probably” the person that alerted railway officials.

At the press conference, Bernhardt stood alongside Stollsteimer as he explained that the original account of the incident was based on a misunderstanding.

However, Lexi McMenamin, Teen Vogue's Contributing Politics Editor, characterised the U-turn as 'police propaganda,' writing on Twitter that the initial story appeared to be an effort to counter 'defund the police' calls by publicising a shocking story that made the "general public sound bad".

Stollsteimer added that "people in this region are not, in my experience, so inhuman" that they would videotape a rape "for their own private enjoyment.”

He said that so far only one witness has come forward: “What we’re trying to do is gather everybody who witnessed anything that night – without fear of being prosecuted – to come forward so we can gather whatever evidence could be gotten from that”.

The victim, who did not know her attacker, was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment after the assault.

Ngoy has previously been arrested for multiple offences, including one count of sexual abuse and for controlled substances, court records show.

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