Police charge victim who never was
Hoaxed: Canadians pay pounds 60,000 after mother's tragic TV cancer appeal
Saturday 13 April 1996
Red-faced Toronto police have put a surprise ending to a tale that touched a compassionate chord across Canada. Admitting they had been too quick to seek positive press coverage about a single mother with terminal cancer who had had all her money stolen by a purse-snatcher, they have charged the woman with public mischief.
It turns out that 27-year-old Donna Mercier does not have cancer, nor a seven-year-old son; but she does have a rich imagination, a history of making false accusations, and the police do not now believe she had her purse stolen, either. Hence the charge of public mischief for making a false claim.
Before the saga ended, however, more than $100,000 (pounds 60,000) in donations had poured in, including several hundred dollars from soft-hearted policemen involved in the initial investigation - an investigation the police now concede did not proceed far enough before the force decided to publicise the woman's plight.
The story began on 3 April, when the woman reported her purse had been stolen by a mugger. In addition to her money, she said the purse contained all of her identification including her health card, pain-killers for the cancer and a bus ticket to send her seven-year-old son to her nearest relatives in Winnipeg, 1,500 miles away, when she died.
After the police put out an appeal for help the next day, the local tabloid newspaper and radio stations began pushing the story, followed eventually by the national media.
The response was so overwhelming that the police arranged this week for the woman to do a televised "thank you" in which she said she wished all of the kind people "could be inside my heart, to see how grateful I am".
The woman was interviewed behind a semi-transparent screen to protect her identity, because the police said that she feared an abusive boyfriend.
The screen was transparent enough, however, that many of her neighbours and acquaintances (including a former male friend who had been falsely accused by her of rape) recognised her and blew the whistle.
Police decided to check out her medical and other claims and the whole story came unstuck. One Toronto officer subsequently admitted he had been sceptical from the start. "It was just too Hollywood," he said.
The big question remaining is what to do with the $100,000 that is sitting untouched in a special bank account.
An official said the police department would seek a "worthwhile, fully accountable" destination for the donations from the generous public.
And the local police chief, David Boothby, said the outpouring of generosity showed Toronto was still a "real, caring city".
- 1 Labour rallies behind Flint as deputy leader to offset a Corbyn win
- 2 Katie Hopkins reveals fear she will die during brain surgery to cure epilepsy
- 3 The difference between a psychopath and a sociopath
- 4 Dutch King Willem-Alexander declares the end of the welfare state
- 5 'Cool kids' can go on to become losers in later life, study finds
Katie Hopkins reveals fear she will die during brain surgery to cure epilepsy
Labour rallies behind Flint as deputy leader to offset a Corbyn win
Kim Jong-un is awarded global statesmanship prize by Indonesia
Dutch King Willem-Alexander declares the end of the welfare state
Calais crisis: Migrants that have made it to the UK reveal how Britain has matched their expectations
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
Calais crisis: The seven claims made about the migrants - and the reality
Calais crisis: For desperate migrants it is 'England or death' as they brave dogs, riot police and speeding trains
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...
£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...