'Cancer con' blogger faces fine over charity donation claims
Blogger Belle Gibson, who lied about beating a normally deadly brain tumour through healthy eating, exploited public generosity by falsely claiming most of her income went to charities, a judge has said.
Federal Court Justice Debra Mortimer ruled Ms Gibson's misleading claims about her charitable donations from the sales of her cook book The Whole Pantry and a related app constituted unconscionable conduct under Australian law.
"All Ms Gibson's marketing of herself and her company projected the image of a successful, booming enterprise with a wholesale dedication to charitable giving," the judge said.
But despite Ms Gibson saying "a large part of everything the company earns is now donated to charities," only 10,000 Australian dollars (€7,134) of the earnings of 420,000 Australian dollars (€300,000) from her company Inkerman Road Nominees went to charity.
One of her nominated charities, Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, raised the alarm with the Victoria state consumer watchdog after no donations materialised.
Ms Gibson was not represented when a civil trial was heard in September on charges of misleading and deceptive conduct under trade law.
She could be fined up to 200,000 Australian dollars (€142,000) and her company, which is now in liquidation, could be fined up to 1.1 million Australian dollars (€785,000) at a penalty hearing later this month.
Ms Gibson built a public profile from 2013 around her claim through her book, Instagram and Facebook accounts that she was diagnosed with brain cancer as a 20-year-old in 2009 and was given four months to live.
She claimed to have rejected conventional cancer treatments in favour of a quest to heal herself naturally.
With media questioning many of her claims, she admitted in 2015 that she never had cancer.
Publisher Penguin Books promoted her book at the London Book Fair in 2014 and she was invited by Apple to attend its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco that year.