Fake wellness guru Belle Gibson has been fined $410,000 for selling vulnerable Australians a web of lies.
But the cancer con artist’s failure to attend any of her Federal Court hearings showed yet again she placed her own interests ahead of anyone else, a scathing Justice Debbie Mortimer said on Thursday.
“If there is one theme or pattern which emerges through her conduct, it is her relentless obsession with herself and what best serves her interests,” the judge said.
Gibson claimed she had brain cancer, healed herself with natural remedies and lied to well-meaning consumers that she would donate money from her Whole Pantry app and book sales to charities.
She was fined on Thursday for five contraventions of Australian Consumer Law, in an action brought by Victoria’s Director of Consumer Affairs.
The breaches arose after Gibson claimed money from her app and book sales would go to various charities, including a boy with brain cancer.
Although Gibson received $440,500 from the sales, she only donated about $10,000.
But she and her company Inkerman Road Nominees – now in liquidation – only began making donations after the media began scrutinising her claims.
Justice Mortimer said this clearly showed her dishonesty and self-interest, with the “miserly” donations she did make, amounting to nothing more than a bid to regain credibility.
Gibson’s deliberate exploitation of a young boy’s terminal illness was “particularly disgraceful”, when she encouraged people to buy her app, claiming she would donate 100 per cent of sales that week to his family.
The judge said Gibson not only tried to garner sympathy for her own claimed cancer, but promoted herself as generous and selfless so people would buy her products.
Even after being put on notice during an interview with publisher Penguin – who offered her a book advance – that there were likely to be real questions about her charitable giving, she continued the lies.
Further, Gibson’s failure to participate in court proceedings and apologise showed she took no responsibility for her conduct, the judge said.
Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz said Gibson’s actions were careless and dangerous, targeted at people with cancer looking for a ray of hope.
“The penalties handed down send a clear message that we won’t put up with this rubbish, particularly when it stands to affect those battling cancer,” she said.
Consumer Affairs Victoria acting director Dr Elizabeth Lanyon said the penalty showed that those seeking to profit from deceptive, misleading or unconscionable conduct would be held to account.
The maximum penalty Gibson could have faced was $1.1 million. She has already been ordered to pay $30,000 of the Director of Consumer Affairs’ legal costs.