Fake cancer blogger Belle Gibson fined £240,000
Australian fraudster claimed to have held off terminal cancer with clean living
A disgraced wellness blogger who lied about having cancer and curing herself through “clean living” has been fined $410,000 (£240,000) by an Australian court.
Belle Gibson, 25, deceived her fans - which included cancer patients - for two years before being outed as a fraudster in 2015.
She claimed to have been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer aged 20 and given four months to live, but said had been able to prolong her life for four years with holistic cures including “oxygen therapy and a gluten and refined sugar-free diet,” Sky News reports.
The consumer law watchdog in the Australian state of Victioria took legal action against Gibson after a newspaper investigation found evidence that the wellness guru had not passed on the proceeds of multiple charitable fundraisers.
A federal court in Melbourne has now ruled that Gibson must pay out a total of $410,000 for five breaches of consumer law, The Age reports.
The biggest of these is a $150,000 penalty for falsely claiming that proceeds from her app sales would go to a family whose son was suffering from incurable brain cancer, a fraud Justice Debbie Mortimer called “particularly disgraceful”.
Gibson “sought to use the tragic terminal illness of a young boy for her own selfish purposes”, she said.
Justice Mortimer said that Gibson’s failure to appear in court for the hearing was just the latest in a pattern of behaviour which displayed a “relentless obsession with herself and what best serves her interests”.
Gibson’s wellness app, The Whole Pantry, was downloaded more than 300,000 times after its launch in 2013.
Through the app, Gibson shared the recipes and alternative medicines that she claimed her prolonged her life years beyond doctors’ predictions.
She also claimed to be making sizeable donations to charity from the proceeds of her growing wellness empire.
In 2014, she published a bestselling cookbook of the same name in which “she recounts how she withdrew from chemotherapy and radiotherapy after two months and embarked on ‘a quest to heal myself naturally’”, The Independent reports.
However, doubts were beginning to emerge about the truth of her life story, with several journalists pointing out inconsistencies in her accounts.
In March 2015, an investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that Gibson had not been passing on her fans’ donations as promised, and that four of the five charities she claimed to support were not even aware of the fundraising drives.
Once Gibson’s supposed fundraising activities had been called into question, her web of lies began to unravel. Further media investigation found that she had also lied about her age and personal history - most notably, her non-existant cancer battle.
As public scrutiny intensified, Gibson first claimed that she had been misdiagnosed before admitting that she made the whole story up, in an April 2015 interview with Australian Women’s Weekly.
“None of it’s true,” she said, adding that she hoped people would recognise that she was “human”.
However, the revelation that Gibson’s empire was built on a tissue of lies turned her from guru to pariah. “Many criticised Gibson for putting cancer sufferers in danger by suggesting dietary approaches alone could successfully treat them,” says The Guardian.