Annabelle Natalie Gibson|
October 8, 1991 (age 26)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia
|Residence||Elwood, Victoria, Australia|
|Known for||Fabricated claims of having had multiple cancers which were self-treated through diet and alternative medicine. Fabricated claims of undergoing multiple heart surgeries and suffering strokes. Fraudulent claims that $300,000 of income from sales had been donated to charities.|
Annabelle Natalie "Belle" Gibson (born October 8, 1991) is an Australian blogger, and alternative health advocate who fraudulently claimed to have donated significant income to charities, and of having forgone conventional cancer treatments to effectively self-manage multiple cancers through diet and alternative therapies.
Gibson is the author of The Whole Pantry smartphone application and its later companion cookbook, both of which were subsequently withdrawn from sale from the Apple Store. The Whole Pantry application was featured in promotional material for the as-then unreleased Apple Watch, but was removed from Apple advertising after the controversy broke.
In early March 2015, after media reporting identified Gibson's fraudulent claims of charity fundraising and donation-making, further media investigation soon revealed that Gibson had also fabricated her stories of cancer, and lied about her age as well as other details of her personal life and history. Concerns were expressed that Gibson had led a profligate lifestyle, renting an upmarket town house, leasing a luxury car and office space, undergoing cosmetic dental procedures, purchasing designer clothes and holidaying internationally, on money claimed to have been raised or destined for charity.
The media were increasingly reporting specified fraudulent claims by Gibson and The Whole Pantry regarding charity fundraising and donation-making, and detailed the many inconsistencies in Gibson's claimed medical history. With a collapsing social media support base, in an April 2015 interview Gibson admitted that her claims of cancers had been fabricated, stating that "none of it's true".
On May 6, 2016, Consumer Affairs Victoria announced legal action against Gibson and Inkerman Road Nominees Pty Ltd (originally known as Belle Gibson Pty Ltd) for "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." Penguin Australia Pty Ltd, publishers of The Whole Pantry book, had cooperated with the investigation and agreed to make a $30,000 donation to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund, acknowledging that it had not taken adequate steps to verify Gibson's claims prior to publishing the book. On 15 March 2017, the Federal Court supported most of those claims, concluding that “Ms Gibson had no reasonable basis to believe she had cancer."
According to interviews she has given, Gibson left her Brisbane family home at age 12 to live with a classmate, and later she lived with a family friend. Gibson attended Wynnum State High School in Manly, Brisbane, before, at around the age of 16, dropping out of school in Year 10, although she also later claimed to have been home schooled. Gibson worked for some time as a trainee for catering supply company PFD Food Services in Lytton, Queensland, but social media reflected that by late 2008, at either 16 or 17 years of age (given an October 1991 birth date), she had relocated to Perth, where she was involved in the skateboarding culture and actively participating in its online community. Gibson subsequently moved from Perth to Melbourne in July 2009 at age 17, and became a mother in July 2010, at age 18. Gibson launched The Whole Pantry application in August 2013, at age 21.
Gibson reportedly told a prospective business partner in 2014 that she had "several names" that she went under, and in her most recent interview with The Australian Women's Weekly claimed "her mother changed her name five times". Gibson's corporate filings indicate that she is three years younger than she publicly claims to be.
In interviews, Gibson stated that since 2009 she had self-treated her then claimed malignant brain and various other cancers (blood, spleen, uterus, liver, kidney and neurological) through diet, exercise, the "power of fruits, vegetables", Ayurvedic practices, craniosacral therapy, colonic irrigations and (controversial) Gerson treatments. Gibson attributed the onset of her claimed cancers to a reaction to cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil.
The Whole Pantry
Gibson launched The Whole Pantry application in August 2013, and there were reportedly 200,000 downloads within the first month. Gibson soon after signed a book deal with Lantern Books for an accompanying table top cookbook (published in October 2014), and was working with Apple in September 2014, to transition the application as a privileged preinstalled default Third Party inclusion in the Apple Watch launch, which was scheduled for April 2015.
Apple took steps to promote Gibson internationally after it saw The Whole Pantry app.
By early 2015, it was estimated that in excess of $1 million had been made in sales of The Whole Pantry application and book. Gibson chronicled her battle with cancer on a blog, by the same name The Whole Pantry, but "doubts about her claims surfaced after she failed to deliver a promised $300,000 donation to a charity".
Before doubts were raised about her health and charitable donation claims, Gibson had intended to expand the brand beyond the health, lifestyle and 'wellbeing' reflected in the Whole Pantry application and book, having earlier registered the domain The Whole Life, and advertised in December 2014 to recruit an IT specialist to expand the application and brand portfolio. Both The Whole Pantry App and The Whole Life were registered by her partner, Clive Rothwell, in Gibson's corporate name. The Whole Pantry registrar was amended in March 2015 after the controversy broke.
While The Whole Pantry has unequivocally denied that Gibson ever helped anyone to reject conventional cancer treatment, Gibson has been quoted from her social media posts as claiming that she had "countless times helped others" to forgo conventional medical treatment for cancers and to treat themselves 'naturally', as well as "leading them down natural therapy for everything from fertility, depression, bone damage and other types of cancer".
When the book was launched in November 2014, Gibson claimed in its preface that she had been "stable for two years now with no growth of the cancer", but her story soon emerged as inconsistent: she also told media outlets that the cancer had reached her liver and kidneys, and three months earlier had posted on The Whole Pantry's Facebook page that her cancer had spread to her blood, spleen, brain and uterus. She previously claimed that she had undergone heart surgery operations several times and to have momentarily died on the operating table. However, there were no scars as a result of heart surgery. She also claimed to have suffered a stroke. Gibson was unable to substantiate her medical claims nor name the doctors who diagnosed her condition and treated her.
The cookbook was published in Australia by Lantern Books (Penguin) and Simon & Schuster were going to publish the cookbook in Europe and the US. Penguin Publishing acknowledges that it never asked for any evidence of her medical condition, saying it published the recipe book in "good faith". The book was subsequently pulled from Australian and international publication, its publishers stating that despite best endeavours Gibson had failed to satisfactorily address the claims made against her regarding her health and charitable donations.
Following adverse media coverage, there was considerable scrutiny of her story leading to doubts being cast on her cancer diagnosis, and on previous claims around her health issues, including having cancer and the multiple heart surgeries. Gibson's story was reported to be "being erased from the internet". In a statement Apple had initially indicated that it intended to retain the app on the Apple Watch, stating that their interest related as to only whether the app performs as it is supposed to. However the app was subsequently withdrawn from the Apple Watch, after first being removed from the Australian and US App Stores.
At the same time, claims also emerged that charity funds raised in 2013 and 2014 had not been donated to the claimed causes, which Gibson rejects, but Fairfax Media revealed that The Whole Pantry founder "failed to hand over proceeds solicited in the name of five charities" and had "grossly overstated the company's total donations to different causes". Two charities confirmed to The Australian newspaper that her company had used their names in fundraising drives but had either failed to deliver the donations or had inadequately accounted for the funds.
Gibson had claimed on a number of occasions in 2014 that The Whole Pantry had donated approximately $300,000 to charities involved in (among other things) maternal healthcare in developing nations, medical support for children with cancer, and funding schools in sub-Saharan Africa. In late 2014, when The Whole Pantry application was pre-installed on the Apple iPad, Gibson claimed through her Instagram account to be working with 20 different charities.
When confronted by investigative journalists about the doubtfulness of these and other claims in early 2015, Gibson admitted that she had seriously overstated the level of charitable donations that had been made. Subsequent media reporting in March 2015 revealed that it could only be ascertained that an estimated $7,000 of the previously claimed $300,000 had been donated to a total of three charities, with at least $1,000 of the $7,000 reportedly having been donated only after Gibson became aware of the Fairfax Media investigation into her earlier claims. Another $1,000 of the $7,000 had been donated to a charitable cause under her spouse Clive Rothwell's name, rather than Gibson's or the company name.
Also in March 2015, the parents of a young child suffering from brain cancer, whom Gibson had befriended, came forward to report that they had been unaware that Gibson had earlier been claiming to be fundraising for their child's treatment on their behalf. The family stated they had not known about Gibson's claim to be charity fundraising on behalf of the child, and the family had never received any funds from her or The Whole Pantry. The family suspected Gibson had been using information gleaned from the family's experiences to underpin her own claims to having brain cancer.
Consumer Affairs Victoria has initiated an investigation.
Support of controversial medical practices
Gibson's and The Whole Pantry's statements regarding the benefits of exercise, healthy eating and a positive mindset were uncontroversial, being widely acknowledged as conducive to holistic well being. However, on her now deleted 'OnlyBelle' Instagram account and in other social media, Gibson also promoted more controversial or potentially dangerous alternative medical practices, including; Gerson therapy, anti-vaccination, and the consumption of non-pasteurised raw milk. The highly controversial Gerson treatment had been similarly promoted by another Australian 'wellness' blogger, Jessica Ainscough, whose funeral Gibson attended when Ainscough succumbed to her cancer at age 29 in late February 2015. With approximately 97% of the population under seven years of age immunised, Australian Government vaccination policy heavily penalises parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, by denying access to significant welfare and other benefits, worth approximately $11,700 per annum. The sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal in Australia and, in 2014 in Gibson's state of Victoria, one three-year-old died and another four children under the age of five became seriously ill after consuming non-pasteurised raw milk.
Concern over publisher culpability
As the controversy grew, questions began to be raised about Apple, Penguin and the Australian media's lack of due diligence in prima facie accepting Gibson's claims to suffering multiple cancers, an issue taken up by Australia's Media Watch program.
Apple, in response to media enquiry in mid March 2015, declined to remove The Whole Pantry application from sale, stating that it was only concerned about the functionality of an application. However, The Whole Pantry was soon thereafter removed from inclusion in the Apple Watch launch. Apple subsequently deleted the application from the Apple Store, and soon thereafter also removed it from all Apple Watch promotional material. Apple has not provided any public comment regarding the reasons behind the removal of The Whole Pantry application from the Apple Store and Apple Watch, but an internal email from an Australian executive to the US team acknowledged that the removal would be subject to comment.
Lantern Books (Penguin), when initially approached by investigative journalists, claimed it had not confirmed the validity of Gibson's cancer claims as it was not required to as the book was "a collection of recipes". Soon after, in mid March 2015 and as the controversy grew, Penguin withdrew the book from sale, citing a lack of response from Gibson to its queries relating to the media accusations. Fairfax Media, however, reported that Penguin had, prior to publication of the book, already quizzed (and videotaped) Gibson on her cancer story as recounted in the preface. Penguin Australia agreed to pay AU30,000 to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund as a penalty for failing to validate the factual content of the book.
After the Media Watch segment aired, the Elle Australia magazine admitted that following its laudatory story on Gibson, "The Most Inspiring Woman You've Met This Year", which was published in December 2014, Elle Australia had received anonymous but specific claims that Gibson was fabricating her story, but ultimately dismissed the email as "lies".
A second Bauer Media Group magazine, Cosmopolitan, which had awarded Gibson its 2014 'Fun, Fearless Female' social media award, later revealed that it too had received an email, but had dismissed out of hand the email's accusations that Gibson was fabricating her story. Subsequently, on 24 April 2015, after Gibson had admitted to having faked her cancers, in defending the magazine's decision not to strip Gibson of its 2014 social media award, Cosmopolitan's editor stated that Gibson had been "reader nominated and reader voted", the award being "a competition where readers are nominating people that they're inspired by". However, Cosmopolitan's Associate Editor had a month earlier, on 17 March 2015, stated in the magazine's "honest account" of the its dealings with Gibson that "I put forward the nomination myself", indicating that Cosmopolitan magazine, rather than the public, had been instrumental in promoting Gibson's award.
A conventional cancer research professional from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research also went public to state that, by failing to conduct basic fact checking and providing "unfiltered PR" to Gibson's untested claims, an uncritical media had been complicit in Gibson's "scam".
Erasing the story
Once the controversy surfaced in the media, The Whole Pantry began removing any comments made on its (since deleted) Facebook page that questioned the now suspect health and charitable claims that Gibson and the company had made, asserting that these comments only added to "the misinformation" of the initial Fairfax Media article. This selective deletion drew even more negative comment.
Simultaneously, posts that Gibson had made on her Healing Belle Instagram account that made reference to her cancers or charitable donations were also being selectively deleted, drawing further negative comment to the effect that particularly Gibson's cancer-related claims were suddenly "being erased from the internet". Soon after, all posts were deleted from the Healing Belle and The Whole Pantry Instagram accounts. Around the same time, individual postings about her cancer, and claims of having died briefly while under heart surgery, which Gibson had made in 2009 on blogs that she did not directly control, were also being selectively deleted by the administrator of the blog "at the request of a user". Both the Whole Pantry and Healing Belle accounts across a number of social media platforms were soon either abandoned, made private, or deleted in their entirety.
Gibson subsequently established another Facebook account under the alias Harry Gibson, which was made private, and used to hit back at Facebook followers questioning her claims or speaking to the media.
Admission of deceit
In late April 2015, Gibson gave an interview to The Australian Women's Weekly, in which she admitted to having fabricated all her cancer claims. Gibson attributed her lying to her childhood upbringing, and specifically to neglect by her now-estranged mother, claiming to having been forced to take care of herself and her brother since the age of five. The interview was, however, described as an admission of deceit, without expression of regret or apology. In a May 2015 interview with the same magazine, Gibson's mother Natalie Dal-Bello refuted several claims Gibson had made about her upbringing. This included the claim that her brother was autistic, even though he – also interviewed for the magazine – is not.
Gibson's late April 2015 interview with The Australian Women's Weekly, in which she admitted faking her cancers, was arranged by Bespoke Approach, and Gibson was provided pro bono representation by the company during the interview.
In June 2015, Gibson was rumored to have received $45,000 for an interview with 60 Minutes. Stefanie Spinks wrote that "by accepting $45,000 for her interview, Belle is sending the message that people can profit off stealing, lying and taking advantage of people's good intentions." During this interview, she claimed to have been visited at home by a doctor named Mark Johns who had an electronic machine with paddles and lights that was "German technology" that diagnosed her cancers. She also believed she was taking oral chemotherapy prescribed by this same doctor. No one has found any trace of this person nor any information on the portable machine that was used to make a diagnosis.
Consumer Affairs Victoria brought legal action against Gibson for allegedly breaking Australian consumer law. The regulator said it had conducted an in-depth investigation of Gibson's activities and applied to Australia's Federal Court for leave to pursue legal action. Gibson's publisher, Penguin Australia, has already agreed to pay A$30,000 ($22,200; £15,300) to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund as a penalty for releasing The Whole Pantry, which was not fact checked.
On 15 March 2017, Federal Court Justice Debra Mortimer delivered the decision that “most but not all” of the claims were proven. Gibson did not appear in court for the decision. Justice Mortimer found Gibson's claims had been misleading and deceptive, and that “Ms Gibson had no reasonable basis to believe she had cancer from the time she began making these claims in public to promote The Whole Pantry Book and the apps in mid-2013,” but there was not enough evidence to prove that she was not acting out of delusion.
In September, 2017, Belle Gibson was fined A$410,000 (US$310,000; £240,000) for making false claims about her donations to charity. As of July 2018, Gibson had not yet paid the fine, and authorities were seeking power to charge her with contempt of court.
- Jessica Ainscough, an Australian woman who died of cancer while using social media to promote wellness-based alternative treatment
- Ashley Kirilow, a Canadian fraudster who raised money for cancer charities by falsely claiming that she had cancer
- Michael Guglielmucci, an Australian singer who claimed to have cancer to boost his performing career
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- Staff (B & T Magazine) (June 30, 2015). "'We Checked Belle's Birth Certificate' Women's Weekly Editor Helen McCabe Tells B&T". Retrieved January 14, 2018.
the magazine [Women's Wear Daily] has seen a birth certificate provided by her mother, Natalie, which clearly states she was born on October 8, 1991,
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