False cancer claims could land blogger in jail

By Rebecca Sullivan at news.com.au, Vanessa Brown

Wellness blogger Belle Gibson. Photo / Facebook
Wellness blogger Belle Gibson. Photo / Facebook

Australian Belle Gibson looks set to pay for her false cancer claims, with Consumer Affairs Victoria taking legal action against the disgraced wellness blogger and her company in the Federal Court.

A statement by Consumer Affairs Victoria said "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."

Ms Gibson, a 23-year-old social media entrepreneur, convinced fans she recovered from terminal brain cancer through healthy eating and natural therapies.

No charges have been laid against Ms Gibson but the department launched an investigation last year amid claims she failed to donate $300,000 from the sales of her wellness app, The Whole Pantry, to charity.

Consumer Affairs Victoria director Simon Cohen said the publishers of The Whole Pantry cookbook, 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".

Penguin must also enhance its compliance, education and training program with a specific focus on ensuring all claims about medical conditions are substantiated, and that statements about natural therapies are accompanied by a prominent warning notice.

But now, according to reports, Ms Gibson could face more than $1 million in penalties.

Last year, during an interview with The Australian Women's Weekly, Ms Gibson was asked outright if she has, or has ever had cancer.

"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.

Last May, her mother Natalie Dal-Bello told The Australian Women's Weekly she was "embarrassed" by Ms Gibson, who she said had dragged her family through the mud in her attempt to blame her cancer lies on a troubled childhood.

Ms Gibson said as a five-year-old girl she had been forced to care for Mrs Dal-Bello - who has multiple sclerosis - and run the household, while also looking after her autistic brother.

"What a lot of rubbish," Mrs Dal-Bello (formerly Gibson) told the magazine, 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 four years, and had no idea of the success she had found as a wellness entrepreneur until it came publicly crashing down.

"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 over $1 million in profits from her cookbook and wellness app, The Whole Pantry.

Belle Gibson has been contacted for comment.

"This is an important step in ensuring that consumers receive only verified information and are not deceived, particularly where serious matters of health and medical treatment are concerned," Mr Cohen said.

In March, Ms Gibson told the Herald Sun she didn't expect to face any charges: "No, I don't think I will," she said.

- news.com.au

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