Belle Gibson, the disgraced health blogger and app developer who lied about having terminal brain cancer and built a business around her “wellness” advice, may be charged by Consumer Affairs Victoria with deceptive conduct.
Gibson, then 23, became a regular on the celebrity wellness circuit for her “miraculous” recovery from terminal illness thanks to her diet, before her empire came crumbling down 12 months ago when the hoax was revealed after she failed to make promised donations to charity.
Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) said it will take legal action against her company Inkerman Road Nominees Pty Ltd, currently in liquidation, and Annabelle Gibson, for a range of false claims, following detailed investigation into alleged breaches of Australian Consumer Law. The company, formerly known as Belle Gibson Pty Ltd, was placed into liquidation last month and owes more than $140,000.
As part of the CAV’s investigation, publisher Penguin Australia has agreed to pay $30,000 to a Victoria’s consumer law fund for publishing Gibson’s book, The Whole Pantry, without properly fact checking.
CAV director Simon Cohen applied for leave to commence proceedings in Federal Court of Australia because Gibson’s company is in liquidation. If granted, CAV will charge Gibson over false claims relating to her diagnosis with terminal brain cancer, her rejection of conventional cancer treatments in favour of natural remedies, and the donation of proceeds to charities.
Gibson, now 24, could face up to $220,000 in fines personally, and her company, $1.1 million, for false and misleading claims.
Melbourne-based Gibson’s fraud began in 2013 and she rose to prominence on social media by claiming she had survived terminal illness for five years using diet and traditional remedies. It led to a best-selling wellness app on Apple’s iTunes store, and when the Apple Watch was launched, Gibson’s app played a central part in the company’s marketing.
She became a media darling for her “inspirational” story, with around 200,000 followers on Instagram. Elle Australia declared her 2014’s “most inspiring person”.
Her success was global, offering hope to people with cancer around the planet. Penguin had planned to publish her book in the US and UK.
Apple had flown Gibson to the US to work on the watch app prior to its launch, but when doubts over Gibson’s claims emerged last year, the app was pulled, followed by her book.
Everything, even the age she claimed to be, was a lie.
Victorian police had previously investigated Gibson, but did not press any charges. Consumer Affairs Victoria has not cited Apple in its legal proceedings.
Gibson’s burgeoning empire came crumbling down when Fairfax Media revealed she had failed to pass on donations she promised to make to charities.
After a year of inspirational stories about her “remarkable journey”, journalists began digging and questions began to emerge about her cancer claims, with experts saying her stories of multiple cancers were implausible.
She had claimed that in 2009 she had three heart operations, two cardiac arrests, died twice on the operating table, and suffered a stroke and brain tumour. But she didn’t.
Gibson maintained she would provide details of her illness right up until an interview in April last year with Australian Women’s Weekly in which she finally confessed to her deception.
Gibson was asked outright if she has, or has ever had cancer.
“No. None of it’s true,” she said.
In June last year, Gibson appeared on 60 Minutes and tried to defend her lies, claiming “I’ve not been intentionally untruthful”.
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