Judge says author lied about having cancer, donating to charity

Australian author and blogger Belle Gibson, who lied about beating a normally deadly brain tumor through healthy eating, exploited public generosity by falsely claiming most of her income went to charities, a judge said Wednesday.

Federal Court Justice Debra Mortimer ruled that Gibson’s deceptive and 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,” Mortimer wrote in her judgment.

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But despite Gibson saying “a large part of everything the company earns is now donated to charities,” only 10,000 Australian dollars ($7,600) of the earnings of AU$420,000 from her company Inkerman Road Nominees went to charity.

One of her nominated charities, Asylum Seekers Resource Center, raised the alarm with the Victoria state consumer watchdog after no donations materialized.

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 AU$200,000 and her company, which is now in liquidation, could be fined up to AU$1.1 million at a penalty hearing later this month.

Gibson built a public profile since 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 favor 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 Inc. to attend its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco that year.