Belle Gibson with her Whole Pantry book, which was pulled from shelves after it was revealed the blogger had never suffered cancer.
Belle Gibson with her Whole Pantry book, which was pulled from shelves after it was revealed the blogger had never suffered cancer.

Verdict is in: fake cancer blogger Belle Gibson in court

DISGRACED wellness blogger Belle Gibson has been found guilty in the Victorian Federal Court of a majority of charges against her of defrauding clients and profiting from false cancer claims.

Justice Debbie Mortimer handed down her judgment on Wednesday morning in Melbourne, saying Ms Gibson was guilty of "most, but not all" charges against the 25-year-old who faked brain cancer.

"I have upheld most, but not all of the allegations," Justice Mortimer told the court room.

"Ms Gibson deliberately played on the genuine desire of members of the Australian community to help those less fortunate.

"Her 'pitch' overwhelmingly used groups likely to evoke sympathy because of their vulnerabilities - young girls, asylum seekers, sick children."

 

Belle Gibson will face court today over false claims she made about curing her terminal brain cancer by eating healthy foods.
Belle Gibson will face court today over false claims she made about curing her terminal brain cancer by eating healthy foods.

Justice Mortimer said Ms Gibson consulted GP Dr Phillip Soffer in November 2014, and claimed it was then that she learnt she didn't have cancer, but she failed to inform Apple, Google or Penguin of that fact.

"Ms Gibson explained this by saying that first, she would not update Apple on health or personal matters, and second, that she was in shock and denial at the time that she received the news that she was cleared of cancer diagnoses."

Justice Mortimer will sentence the blogger, who was not in court, to hear her conviction at a later date.

"I am satisfied Ms Gibson and her company made a representation as to existing fact that was misleading or deceptive in any event," Justice Mortimer said.

 

Gibson was awarded Cosmopolitan magazine's Fun Fearless Female Award in 2014. The award was later revoked.
Gibson was awarded Cosmopolitan magazine's Fun Fearless Female Award in 2014. The award was later revoked.

 

But the judge said there wasn't enough evidence to prove that Ms Gibson never believed she had cancer, and that at the time she may have been under "some kind of delusion" when blogging about her fake cancer.

"It seems to me that, at least in some respects, it might be open to find that Ms Gibson suffered from a series of delusions about her health condition," Justice Mortimer said.

The judge went on to say that not all humans are "rational and reasonable all of the time".

Consumer Affairs Victoria accused Ms Gibson of engaging in "unconscionable conduct" after she curated a large social media following and released a cookbook and app called The Whole Pantry.

Ms Gibson took in more than $1 million in profits from her cookbook and app, after she told fans that she'd eschewed traditional cancer treatments in favour of "clean eating" and juice cleanses.

The young mother claimed she was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009 and given four months to live.

As well as the fake cancer claims, Consumer Affairs Victoria also accused Ms Gibson of not passing on up to $300,000 in promised charity donations.

"The alleged contraventions relate to false claims by Ms Gibson and her company concerning her diagnosis with terminal brain cancer, her rejection of conventional cancer treatments in favour of natural remedies, and the donation of proceeds to various charities," CVA said in a statement last year.

In April 2015, the 25-year-old told The Australian Women's Weekly that her claims were false.

"No. None of it's true," she confessed. "I am still jumping between what I think I know and what is reality. I have lived it and I'm not really there yet," she said.

Along with the fine, CAV is seeking an injunction preventing Gibson from engaging in similar conduct, and has also requested she make a public apology in the Herald Sun and The Australian newspapers.

In the days leading up to the final judgment, Ms Gibson credited a new fad diet on Facebook with healing mouth cavities and shrinking her tonsils by 30 per cent.

On the closed Facebook page for Master Fast Diet, Ms Gibson gushed of how the diet and health program had changed her life.

"What a blessed week!" Ms Gibson, who went by the pseudonym Harry Gibson, wrote on the page.

"I don't know if it was the short month of February or if I lost count and confused myself but i thought today was my two week mark of full MFS.

"Turns out it is actually day 10, still great, but damn happy 2 week celebration dance in bed this morning for no reason ;)"
Among several questionable claims, including dropping weight and changing her eye colour, Gibson told members of the group that since starting the natural eating plan she had also passed a "huge rope worm" and she would "never get a filling again".

The group, which advocates fasting and drinking herbal teas, was founded by Canadian alternative health practitioner Luigi Di Serio.

"If you have been given a death sentence and without hope, let us teach you that EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE and your situation CAN be turned around no matter what "they" named your dis-ease," the Master Fast System website read.

"My experience shows only my body has the capability to heal itself with access to the correct "INFORMATION". I found that no pills, doctors, herbs, food, minerals, vitamins, etc. can ever heal your body."

The diet advocates taking activated charcoal, kidney tea and doing regular enemas, claiming the fast can cure anything.
Since learning of her history, some members of the Master Fast System Facebook group have turned on Gibson, calling her a 'liar' and feeling "deceived".

"Don't believe a word she says people," one member of the group said.

"I used to follow her blog, and I was devastated when I found out it was all a lie. I'm battling cancer myself and felt so deceived. I just can't believe she's at it again. This group is about love and healing, not lies."

Ms Gibson, who went by the name Harry Gibson on Facebook, is no longer part of the group. Her Facebook account has since been removed.

Gibson curated a large social media following and released a cookbook and app called The Whole Pantry, where she told fans that she'd eschewed traditional cancer treatments in favour of "clean eating" and juice cleanses.

But in April 2015, she told The Australian Women's Weekly that her claims were false.

"I think my life has just got so many complexities around it and within it, that it's just easier to assume [I'm lying]," she said.

"If I don't have an answer, then I will sort of theorise it myself and come up with one. I think that's an easy thing to often revert to if you don't know what the answer is."

Gibson told The Weekly she had a "troubled" childhood, which may have led her to lie about her condition.

The young mother - she has a son called Olivier - said that as a five-year-old girl she had been forced to care for her mother, who has multiple sclerosis, and run the household, while also looking after her autistic brother.

But Gibson's mother Natalie Dal-Bello said none of that is true.

"What a lot of rubbish," Mrs Dal-Bello told The Weekly, saying the only truth to the story was her MS.

"Her brother is not autistic and she's barely done a minute's housework in her life," she said.

"I've practically worked myself into an early grave to give that girl everything she wanted in life."

Mrs Dal-Bello said she had not been in touch with her estranged daughter for years and was unaware of her success as a wellness blogger.

"I can't tell you how embarrassed we are about what she has done," she said.

"She just plucked bits and pieces of other people's medical problems and assumed them as her own. She had a heart problem growing up, but that was it.

"She doesn't seem to be sorry. There doesn't appear to be any remorse. I've never seen her cry in her life."
Ms Gibson took in more than $1 million in profits from her cookbook and app.

Last year, CVAdirector Simon Cohen said Penguin Australia "had willingly co-operated with a concurrent investigation that examined whether the company had also violated" the Australian Consumer Law.

Mr Cohen said Penguin had admitted that it had not "required Ms Gibson to substantiate her claims prior to the book's publication" and "will make a $30,000 donation to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund."

Last September, a shocking video revealed Penguin was concerned about cracks in Gibson's story. The video showed Gibson undergoing media training and mock interviews with Penguin publicists, and was asked to prepare for interrogation from investigative journalists.

"What we suspect might happen now is that because you are a success story of the moment - you are one of Australia's great success stories of the moment - you know what journalists do, they want to start scratch, scratch, scratching away," a woman said in the video, off-camera.

"They already are," replied Gibson.

"And we're concerned about that," the Penguin representative said

In the footage, recorded in 2014, Ms Gibson is asked about the seriousness of her claimed cancer diagnosis, and cheers when she announced the cancer she claimed to have in her uterus has miraculously disappeared.

"I'm going to get tested for ovarian cancer. I no longer have cancer in my uterus," she says, raising her arms and letting out a "woo-hoo".

When pressed on when she was told the cancer was gone, she replied: "Not long ago, but it all still feels like it sucks down there".

During the training session, Ms Gibson is pressed on the "experimental" treatment she claimed to be taking, and the charities she couldn't prove she had donated to.

She struggles to explain the treatment, and says the Indonesia- and Cambodia-based charities she was dealing with "don't speak English", but that she could have documentation to prove her claims within six months, "once I get my s*** together".

The interviewer tells her to "get your story straight about the charities. I think they're going to go there with that".

The sentence will be handed down at a later date.

News Corp Australia


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