Disgraced health blogger Belle Gibson misled and deceived her followers when she claimed to have cured terminal cancer with natural remedies, but might have believed she had the disease due to a "delusion", a judge has found.
The Federal Court's Justice Debra Mortimer found that the 25-year-old had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct, and that "most but not all of the claims" made by Consumer Affairs Victoria – the body that took Gibson to court – were proven.
But Mortimer was not persuaded by evidence that Gibson acted unconscionably, saying it was possible the woman was still under a "delusion" she had cancer after releasing her successful cookbook and app.
“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,” Mortimer said.
"She may have had other psychological or psychiatric issues."
Mortimer said Gibson's statements about having cancer "were obviously false".
"Members of the community reading those statements would be erroneously led to believe that Ms Gibson was suffering from terminal brain cancer, where this was never the case," she said.
"Her 'pitch' overwhelmingly used groups likely to evoke sympathy because of their vulnerabilities – young girls, asylum seekers, sick children."
In a 2015 60 Minutes interview Gibson claimed she had been treated for cancer in 2009 by a neurologist "Mark Jones" who she "believed was a real doctor". However the program could not find any record of him.
"Having conventional treatment was the premise upon which the rest of Ms Gibson's story was built – that is, that she turned away from the conventional treatments for cancer in favour of 'healing' herself through nutrition and other alternative remedies," Mortimer said.
The judge also found that many of the charities Gibson said she had donated to, including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, did not receive these funds.
Gibson did not attend the hearing but reportedly made a Facebook post relating to bowel movements under her pseudonym Harry Gibson on the page of "cleansing diet" Master Fast System.
She claimed to have expelled a "HUGE ROPE WORM" which was "at least 60cm".
"I felt such HUGE relief and was floating all day afterwards," Gibson wrote in the post, which has since been deleted.
Penalties will be handed down at a later date, with Gibson facing a personal fine of up to $220,000 and a company fine of up to $1.1 million.
In 2015 Gibson's publisher Penguin was fined $30,000 for selling and promoting the book with "false and misleading representations".
Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Gina Rushton at email@example.com.
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