Malignant Con: Why Belle Gibson Must Be Prosecuted

ENFORCING THE PRINCIPLE of deterrence has seldom been more important than in the case of disgraced blogger, entrepreneur and “cancer” patient, Belle Gibson; the admission her ailments, tumours and surgeries were false — coming after months of media scrutiny that included the loss of a publishing contract and a deal with Apple — must now see her charged. The need to terminate a dangerous precedent outweighs any concerns for her welfare.

I’m not really departing from the political theme tonight, for law enforcement is a practical application that results from the political process; and with that in mind, I want to say a few things about a despicable matter of public interest that — even now — appears to continue to be played like a piano by the beautiful, charming, fork-tongued miscreant at its epicentre.

I’m not going to trawl over the seemingly endless saga of Belle Gibson that has held a disgusted and appalled public riveted for months as first doubts, then questions, and finally the truth emerged: this apparent medical miracle, “cured” of cancers of the liver, spleen, uterus, and “terminal cancer” of the brain by healthy eating and lifestyle choices — and who claimed to have died on the operating table during cardiac surgery — has finally admitted, beaten, that the whole thing was a fabrication.

Those who’ve been living under a rock this year can get the gist of the story — good word — from reports in today’s press here, here and here, and it seems poetic that one of the most widely read publications in Australia, Women’s Weekly, is publishing a humiliating tell-all interview with Gibson under the heading “My Life-Long Struggle With The Truth.”

Quite.

But if Belle Gibson were merely a congenital liar, that might be where this story starts and ends, with the exception of those close to her feeling betrayed and exploited, and some of those around her recognising her as the liability she clearly is — and opting to get on with their lives unencumbered by her acquaintance.

But — and there’s always a “but,” where this kind of thing is concerned — there’s money involved. Lots of it. Just how much is hard to discern through the tightly woven tapestry of lies and bullshit, but there’s money behind this story: and much of it appears, at face value, to have been acquired under false pretences.

Like the fundraising done in the name of “at least five charities” — none of which appears to have ever been distributed.

Or the revelation that of those five, investigations by Fairfax Media (see the linked article) revealed four of them were unaware fundraising activities even took place, whilst the fifth received a paltry $1,000 after the journalist contacted it.

Or the fact Fairfax confirmed Gibson and her business entities are not legally registered as fundraisers.

Or the recipe app, said to have been downloaded 300,000 times at a unit price of $3.79 — there’s well over $1.1 million just there — which has apparently hoodwinked desperately sick, desperately gullible people into dumping conventional medicine in favour of Gibson’s snake oil remedies: and Gibson’s own spiel boasted that it “helped” people abandon the very treatments that offered the best prospect for saving their lives.

Of course, since the scandal erupted some months ago, Gibson’s footprints have quickly disappeared, with her blogs taken down and her social media presence vanishing into the wind; a promised “open letter” to explain the emerging inconsistencies in her story never materialised — and even if it had, it seems Gibson is so cavalier about the truth that it could scarcely have been believed.

But there’s a bigger issue here as well; so far this year there have been three “outings,” to different degrees, of young women in the health space for misleading people, broadly, over medical treatments or weight management regimes; aside from Gibson, so-called Bikini Body Ashy Bines has been accused of — and admitted — plagiarising content for her books and online publications; even so-called “wellness warrior” Jessica Ainscough, who died in February, reverted to chemotherapy and other orthodox oncological treatments shortly before her death after years advocating that a vegan diet and supplements could cure cancer.

They didn’t, and they don’t.

The point in raising them is that when it comes to frauds, charlatans, soothsayers and snake oil salespeople, where there is one, there are usually others; of those who have been exposed to date Gibson is the highest profile, and it is Gibson at whom my remarks are primarily aimed.

I don’t think it’s particularly significant that these three are all female; there are plenty of male shysters floating around the place. But the fact that beautiful, charming, smooth-talking young women are being revealed as charlatans probably says something about an opportunity that is taken more often than anyone can know, and certainly more often than the silently guilty would ever care to admit — until they are caught.

And the fact that these examples all fall broadly within the “health and wellbeing” silo is probably irrelevant too; as sure as night follows day, it’s only a matter of time before others — in other fields, peddling bullshit predicated upon some whole other set of lies, half-truths, exaggerations and wild claims designed to elicit sympathy, attention, and for profit — are unmasked.

People — good people — are, on the whole, extraordinarily generous; they will give time and money to what they perceive to be a good cause, especially if it’s in the name of someone sick, suffering, or otherwise dealt a poor hand in life.

The inherent goodness of such people doesn’t — as a rule — extend to the kind of deep suspicion and distrust that specimens like Belle Gibson ought to inspire.

And that is why she should not get away with what she has done, scot-free.

It’s not just the easy money these grubs pocket — and as anyone who has put money, houses, livelihoods and potentially marriages on the line to try to build a business knows — it’s the fact that many, like Gibson, stand to walk away with most or all of their ill-gotten booty intact; those who genuinely invest money, honest hard work, and with no guarantee of legitimate success as entrepreneurs have every right to be affronted by Gibson.

That affront knows no bounds, as Victoria Police recently declined to pursue Gibson, which raises the question of whether she is allowed to pocket at least a million dollars without consequence, albeit on a false premise.

For every Belle Gibson who does this kind of thing — and gets away with it — someone, somewhere, is going to sit up and take note, and go and rip someone else off: and this is merely another reason why the law must now fall on Gibson like the proverbial ton of bricks as a deterrent to others.

Yet it seems justice is too much to ask; as readers will note from the articles I have linked to, Gibson is already mounting a defence based on a “difficult childhood” — standard fare for the criminal, the mercenary, and the bad to the bone — to which I give my standard answer that I couldn’t care less about her childhood: she’s old enough to know better, and obviously intelligent enough to tell right from wrong if she can lift an easy million dollars from the unsuspecting based on a lie.

The rest of her utterances — as quoted in all of the material I have linked today — show this pretty girl with the forked tongue is already deploying a clever use of language to attempt to slither away from her responsibility, her culpability, and the fact she has committed a rotten outrage against people who will think twice before trying to help someone who genuinely needs it.

(This — published an hour and a half after my own article — is precisely the kind of gullible apology for Gibson’s ills her “explanations” are designed to elicit).

And, finally, comes the issue of community standards, which seem to slip a little further every time something like this comes along; rhetoric about her background, or her troubled life, or her “problems” with the truth are offered up as cover for potentially criminal misconduct: and if as a society the likes of Gibson are excused and tolerated because of what is probably another fairy story, then it sends the message to everyone else that they can behave according to the law of the jungle, for under proper laws there won’t be any consequences.

So long as they get the story straight.

With Gibson’s admissions, there is now ample evidence of misleading, deceptive, and fraudulent conduct — everything she has said, done and published can be distilled down to that simple summary.

There must logically also be money or other assets that can can and should be recovered and, where practicable, liquidated and returned to either the original purchasers/donors or distributed between the charities in whose names Gibson amassed her filthy lucre in the first place.

A deal with prosecutors and/or other relevant government agencies doesn’t cut it.

Abruptly stopping the precedent Gibson has set for the less ethical to emulate is more important than any concerns over her welfare, or limp-wristed sanctions that effectively exonerate her: it is to be hoped that saner heads prevail in the law enforcement agencies that to date have refused to prosecute her, and that Gibson is hit with the full force of the law.

A Few Words On The Jill Meagher case

By now, readers will know of the horrific ordeal of Melbourne woman Jillian Meagher, who disappeared a week ago; her body recovered from a shallow grave this morning, and a suspect charged with her rape and murder. It is chilling, it is a tragedy, and it is an opportunity for the community.

I’m not going to say much, and I urge readers to be restrained in their comments (or at the very least, mindful that the matter is now before the Courts, and thus it is imperative that none of us say anything that might prejudice the fairness of the trial).

Like many people in Melbourne — and across the country — I’m aghast at what happened to Jill Meagher; a woman who went out with colleagues for drinks, and never made it home.

It’s a salutory reminder that none of us are as safe as we would like to be, and a reminder too that for whatever good there is in the world, evil exists too.

And sometimes, evil is a force too strong to be reckoned with.

I didn’t know Jill Meagher, but people I have worked with did; as an ABC employee in Melbourne and thus a fellow media industry person, our “circles” if you like overlapped. And so this episode lands fairly close to home; not that that makes any difference.

Social media have assisted Police to identify and incarcerate a suspect quickly and efficiently; it is now to be hoped that the impending trial proceeds expeditiously and smoothly, and that justice is done — and seen to be done.

It is on this point specifically that I urge caution upon my readers; not just in terms of any comments that may be posted here, but in their conversations and communications elsewhere.

Whatever the end result of the judicial process may be, it is unwise to canvass or to speculate upon it; indeed, the only “change” likely to be effected by doing so is to compromise the prosecution case and/or lead to its abandonment — and I don’t think anyone would wish that.

So let us all be very circumspect; there will be a time and a place for recriminations and for opinions.

Yet later, when the time is appropriate, these events may be the catalyst for a community discussion or debate about standards: what degree of punishment is appropriate as a reflection of community standards and expectations, and how the judicial sentencing process might be reformed to better serve those standards.

I must reiterate, for clarity: I am not prejudging anything here, although many will, and some will interpret my remarks as a call for a reintroduction of the death penalty (which, admittedly, I certainly believe appropriate in cases of aggravated rape and murder generally).

But I make the point from the perspective that so often, people complain about the leniency of sentences and the inadequacy of penalties; there are lobby groups built around such sentiments, with violence against children an obvious example that springs to mind.

So whilst there is a lot of anger and grief and a desire for vengeance around this issue — and understandably, if not rightly so — I would call on all readers just to wait.

For now.

And in the fullness of time, the one positive that might come from this week’s tragic events in Melbourne may well be that Meagher’s legacy is to spark a reform of penalties and sentencing in criminal matters, initiated by her peers, to better reflect the expectations of the community at large.

In the meantime, my condolences and thoughts are with Jill’s husband, Tom, and their family; her ABC colleagues and friends, and to all of those around her who, by all accounts, have lost a very special friend.

And to the rest of you, my message is simple: look after each other, and yourselves.

And remember the difference between safety and mortality is sometimes a matter of seconds, or inches, let alone a question of degrees.

When The Police Come Calling…

Developments in two separate investigations loomed large over Gillard government figures Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper today; Police activities indicate the prospect of criminal charges against either or both is still well and truly alive.

This is just a quick post tonight; I’m sure that today’s events represent merely the lifting of the curtain on the next instalment of the dramas enveloping Messrs Slipper, Thomson, and Thomson’s old buddies over at the HSU.

NSW Police this morning raided the Sydney offices of the Health Services Union, as part of their Strike Force Carnarvon campaign; Fraud and Cybercrime Squad personnel seized documents, computers and other storage systems in relation to their investigations of multiple instances of misconduct and possible criminal activity at the Union.

What probably didn’t help the cause of any of the figures accused of misconduct — and least of all, himself — was the revelation that Police intercepted HSU boss Michael Williamson, allegedly attempting to make off with a quantity of documents central to Police inquiries.

Whether or not Williamson is charged separately over that activity will apparently become clear “in the next few days.”

Still, with inquiries into the HSU and alleged misconduct dragging on for years — and some of these matters directly centre on former HSU head, now MP for Dobell, Craig Thomson — the appearance of Police at HSU head office will no doubt send a shiver down the spines of quite a few interested parties.

Not least, down the spine of Craig Thomson himself, who has repeatedly and systematically refused to co-operate with all Police investigation into his conduct as a HSU official, particularly where the abuse of a Union-provided credit card and misappropriation of HSU monies on prostitutes, fine restaurant meals and inordinate cash advances are concerned.

Meanwhile, the Australian Federal Police have commenced a formal criminal investigation into allegations surrounding former Speaker Peter Slipper’s misuse of travel entitlements, and specifically allegations that he repeatedly misused CabCharge vouchers.

Police have taken a little over a week to evaluate whether to formally investigate the allegations against Mr Slipper “taking into account the likelihood of a criminal offence and the AFP’s resources.”

An AFP spokesperson was quoted in Melbourne’s Herald Sun today as saying “the AFP has now assessed that the matter requires further investigation,” adding that investigators spoke to a number of potential witnesses and gathered information in relation to the matter before deciding to pursue a formal investigation.

Can I just make the point — again — that much of the defence not just of Thomson and Slipper, but of the Gillard government figures surrounding them — and not least, of Gillard herself — has variously been based on obfuscation, refusal to co-operate, stonewalling and “standing firm,” all the while exuding the smugness of a conviction that “they” can’t be caught.

Well now…today’s events simply bring the constabulatory, officially, one giant step closer to Messrs Slipper and Thomson.

Unlike a Fair Work Australia inquiry of dubious rigour, these Police inquiries won’t drag on for three or four years.

We don’t know yet whether Thomson and/or Slipper are guilty of anything they are accused of as yet; this is all the more reason for this latest developments, and this new round of Police activity, to be welcomed.

But if either man is guilty of the accusations being levelled at them, then the walls are now beginning to close in on them.

And this should give Julia Gillard — and those of her colleagues who have likewise relied on stonewalling and standing firm as a panacea to these issues — cause for very grave reflection indeed.

We’ll keep an eye on developments, and discuss as the inquiries develop.

Ten out of ten to the boys in blue, for the record; at least somebody is acting without fear or favour today. The members of our constabulatory involved are to be applauded.