An Australian cookbook author who falsely said she beat cancer through healthy eating has been fined for misleading consumers by lying about her charitable donations.
The judge had ruled in March that Belle Gibson’s deceptive claims of donating the proceeds from the sales of The Whole Pantry and a related app constituted unconscionable conduct under Australian consumer law.
The book and app were withdrawn and now Federal Court Justice Debra Mortimer has ordered Gibson to pay a total of A$410,000 (£240,000) for five contraventions of the law relating to false claims that the proceeds would go to various charities.
“One of the clear demonstrations of the dishonesty and self-interest attending Ms Gibson's conduct was the fact she and the company she controlled did not in fact make any donations to the organisations she had mentioned in her publicity statements until public questioning of her claims,” Judge Mortimer said in the Melbourne court.
The judge said the 25-year-old had been “cavalier about the truth”, unconcerned about representations she had made and “prepared to tell outright lies”.
Ms Gibson had been put on notice during a media training interview with publisher Penguin Books in 2014 that questions would likely be raised about her charitable giving, but “she chose to perpetuate the fantasy and deception she created,” the judge said.
She said Ms Gibson’s failure to attend any of the civil court hearings showed she did not take any responsibility for her conduct.
“Once again, it appears she has put her own interests before those of anyone else”, the judge said.
“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,” she added.
Ms Gibson had been advised of the fine on Wednesday night and responded to the court in an email: “Thank you for the update. Much appreciated.”
Despite Gibson saying “a large part of everything the company earns is now donated to charities,” only A$10,000 of the earnings of A$420,000 from her company Inkerman Road Nominees went to charity. The company is now in liquidation.
One of her nominated charities, Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, raised the alarm with the Victoria state consumer watchdog after no donations materialised.
Ms Gibson built a public profile since 2013 around her claim through her book, Instagram and Facebook accounts that she was diagnosed with brain cancer as a 20-year-old and was given four months to live.
She claimed to have rejected conventional cancer treatments in favour of a quest to heal herself naturally.
With media questioning many of her claims, she admitted in 2015 that she never had cancer.