May 11, 2016

Disgraced cookbook author may now face more than $1 million in fines




It’s been a rough year for Belle Gibson, and it’s about to get rougher.

In 2015, the wellness guru, who rose to prominence based on the claim that she had beat cancer through a regimen of healthy living and eating, was promoting her new cookbook and poised to launch an app on the Apple Watch. Then, revelations about her charity’s suspiciously non-charitable aspects and other lies soon began to surface, and Gibson’s star came crashing down.

Now, Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano at The Age report that Gibson is facing a potentially massive fine for her actions.

Cancer conwoman Belle Gibson faces more than $1 million in penalties for profiting off false cancer claims and defrauding charities while orchestrating a global health scam that gave false hope to seriously ill people and fooled multinational companies including Apple and Penguin.

In the most significant action taken against the disgraced “wellness” blogger, Victoria’s consumer watchdog on Friday launched legal proceedings in the Federal Court that pave the way for serious penalties against Ms Gibson.

The action is in response to Ms Gibson’s false claims of beating terminal brain cancer by eschewing conventional medicine, and the unlawful fundraising appeals run by The Whole Pantry founder in 2013 and 2014.

Penguin has already agreed to pay $30,000 in punitive fines for not fact-checking the book, and has accepted a seemingly huge ongoing penalty in which they’ll include notes on all future books with claims about natural therapies, disclaiming that they are not “evidence-based.” Not that this will stop the true believers out there, but, still!

Victoria’s Consumer Affairs Bureau (CAV) is petitioning the federal court to allow them to pursue a civil case against Gibson’s company, now called Inkerman Road Nominees Pty Ltd. Since the company is in the process of liquidation, Gibson’s debt of $140,000 is now public knowledge, and the potential fines if the Bureau is allowed to proceed could top off at $1.1 million.

CAV said it was concerned that the book was marketed to people with cancer, those who had a family history of cancer and those with friends and relatives suffering from cancer.

“The director considers that these people were unusually susceptible, in that their illnesses, fears, family history or close relationship to cancer sufferers, pre-disposed them to being influenced by the statements [about the cancer diagnosis and treatment],” the undertaking said.

Consumer Affairs Minister Jane Garrett claims that a civil case “is the best approach to obtain justice for Victoria…to ensure Ms Gibson never engages in behaviour such as this again.” Which sounds a lot like “we wouldn’t win a criminal trial.” But it’s already clear that public opinion won’t rally to Gibson, and that pursuing civil judgment against her strikes a (symbolic) blow against frauds who prey on, or prey adjacent to, the terminally ill. Whatever the future holds for Gibson, the now-24-year-old can be assured that it will be an uphill struggle.



Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.