Ex-Harrods manager who faked cancer to con £45,000 jailed

Ex-Harrods manager who faked cancer to con £45,000 jailed

02/10/2021

The sickest lie of all: This ex-Harrods manager convinced 600 people to give her £45,000 for ‘life-saving’ cancer treatment. The vile truth? She was healthy – and funding a luxury lifestyle. As she’s jailed, furious victims condemn her callousness

  • Nicole Elkabbas set up a fundraiser and claimed she needed to pay for treatment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer
  • But she had faked diagnosis and used huge sums of cash to fund lavish lifestyle
  • She was jailed for two years and nine months after being found guilty of fraud

Eyes closed, her brow seemingly furrowed in pain, the slightly built young woman lying propped against the crisp white linen of the hospital bed appeared the image of vulnerability. The photograph, posted online, made it clear this was someone in desperate need.

Nicole Elkabbas, then 40, was said to have undergone three operations and six rounds of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and now urgently needed money to pay for a breakthrough drug in Spain — the ‘only way she could be saved’.

Described as a ‘beautiful daughter’ and ‘loving mum’, Elkabbas appealed for help on the popular fundraising website GoFundMe.

It was compelling; so much so that more than 600 people — friends and strangers — donated sums ranging from a few pounds to thousands.

Eyes closed, her brow seemingly furrowed in pain, the slightly built young woman lying propped against the crisp white linen of the hospital bed appeared the image of vulnerability. The photograph, posted online, made it clear this was someone in desperate need. Pictured: Nicole Elkabbas

It swiftly totalled more than £45,000 — an amount, they thought, which would go towards funding specialist treatment at a hospital in Spain. Except, as those generous well-wishers now know, there was no cancer.

The elaborate detail about groundbreaking therapy, a Spanish specialist, the countless trips for ‘life-saving’ treatment, were nothing more than an extraordinary fiction, manufactured to fund her gambling addiction.

And that photograph? It actually showed Elkabbas recovering at a private hospital in Kent, following comparatively minor surgery to have her gallbladder removed.

Yesterday the callous extent of the single mother’s deception was laid bare, as she was jailed at Canterbury Crown Court for two years and nine months for fraud by false representation and possession of criminal property.

In an excoriating blast, Judge Mark Weekes said Elkabbas’s ‘cunning and manipulative’ deception was ‘insulting to those who must genuinely and courageously face the battle against cancer’. ‘You produced detail and at times a graphic account of the treatment you were receiving with a view to keeping those you had snared in your web of lies paying you money,’ he said.

‘You tugged at their heart strings. You made mention of your child to gild the lily still further . . . All the while, you were gambling, enjoying shopping trips and luxuries in Italy and Spain at their expense.’

It was that photograph, taken at the Spencer Private Hospital in Margate in November 2017, that was to prove her downfall. Uploaded to the GoFundMe page in spring 2018, it reached her hundreds of friends on social media and local mates in her home town of Broadstairs.

One of her appeals went like this: ‘Dear all, many of you have known me at least 20 years, some over 35 years, a few that have only mutual friends and have not met . . . most know I don’t ever ask for favours, well this time I am, this time pride does not come in to play . . .

‘I have very little time, we have had to raise a lot in literally less than 2 weeks outside of the campaign and I have to now try all as I just don’t have time on my side . . . everyone has been so generous, if you would like to donate or to share post or both, every bit of kindness is very appreciated . . . not easy doing this …thank you all xx.’

Yet word reached the doctors who had treated her at Spencer. Not only were they certain the hospital in the photograph was not in Spain (the rather distinctive wallpaper was a bit of a giveaway), one of them was a gynaecologist who had examined Elkabbas and found ‘no signs of ovarian cancer’.

He contacted the Medical Defence Union for advice and was advised to speak to police.

Yesterday the callous extent of the single mother’s deception was laid bare, as she was jailed at Canterbury Crown Court for two years and nine months for fraud by false representation and possession of criminal property. Pictured: Elkabbas arriving at Canterbury Crown Court on Wednesday before her sentencing

Yet Elkabbas doggedly refused to deviate from her deceit, even during her trial last year, where she denied charges of fraud by false representation and possession of criminal property.

Despite the absence of any records to support her claim, she insisted that not only had she been diagnosed by a respected British gynaecologist (‘pure fantasy’, the court heard), but had also visited a specialist clinic in Spain where surgery cost €40,000 (£35,000) and a further €13,700 (£12,000) a month for a cycle of drug treatment.

She named a Spanish specialist, of whom officials in the UK and Spain could find no trace, and even told jurors she could show them a ‘small scar’ from a cancer operation she underwent to remove her right ovary. It was all lies.

Not only was she cancer-free, Elkabbas, a former manager of Harrods’ fine jewellery department, was pouring huge sums of cash into her gambling addiction — at one point, she was betting £60,000 a year — both online and at a casino near to her home.

Elkabbas doggedly refused to deviate from her deceit, even during her trial last year, where she denied charges of fraud by false representation and possession of criminal property 

She also had a taste for the finer things in life, indulging in expensive hair extensions, Premier League football trips and foreign holidays.

In Broadstairs, the repercussions of Elkabbas’s deception continue to be felt. Countless people were deeply hurt; one generous donor’s marriage came close to collapse when his wife discovered how he had been deceived (he had given several thousand pounds).

As one businessman, who worked with Elkabbas, told the Mail: ‘When the GoFundMe appeal came out, I did say to a friend, ‘I don’t believe her’ — but I couldn’t really conceive that anyone would lie about something like that, especially someone with a young son. She must have real issues to have done something on that scale.’

Katie Taylor, founder of the Facebook group The Latte Lounge, which has 18,000 members and helped spread word of her appeal, remembers being taken in. She was persuaded to share the GoFundMe post at the request of a friend on the basis that here was a young mum who needed to raise £30,000 within 24 hours.

‘It all seemed very urgent and life-changing. As this came from a friend, I had added confidence that I was helping her. I said to our members that if they were able and willing to donate at least £1 each, it would be most appreciated. The post received hundreds of positive comments from our members, all who wanted to help. That same morning I donated £20 to the campaign.’

So did others, many of them also mothers, some with their own experiences of ovarian cancer.

Over the next two months, Elkabbas sent direct messages to the group on numerous occasions, explaining she needed more money for further treatment, expressing how ‘exceptionally’ grateful she was. She kept in personal contact with Katie, telling her that her son had been ‘tormented by being told ‘his mum has cancer’ ‘.

‘She also sent me pictures of her in hospital and even told me she was so happy her dog was allowed to sit with her on the bed,’ says Katie in a heartrending written account. Then Elkabbas went quiet. ‘I was worried something may have happened to her but didn’t like to ask.’

Then, in late 2018, Katie received a phone call from police, who told her she had been duped. ‘I did not stop crying and couldn’t sleep for days and weeks after. How could someone take advantage of me and our group members like this?

‘I know I was not responsible for encouraging others to donate but, even now, two years on, I am incredibly angry that we were all deliberately misled into supporting what I was convinced was a genuine cry for help.’

Jo Mapp, 50, a community liaison officer and former manager of live music venue Ramsgate Music Hall, met Elkabbas when their children were at nursery together.

‘Her son and my son were friends,’ she says. ‘We would meet up at football and stuff like that and were friends for a while.

‘You could really tell she had champagne taste. She was always well groomed. Her son was well dressed. She wanted to be known as someone who had connections or somebody that was important.

‘But you could never get to the bottom of what she did. I went to see her in a flat and she said she was looking after the flat for a friend. It turned out it was social housing.’

Jo, like other friends, took a relaxed attitude to their pal’s claims about her so-called ‘celebrity contacts’ — actor Sacha Baron Cohen, Meg Mathews (ex-wife of Noel Gallagher) and comedian Matt Lucas.

‘I always thought she was a fantasist, that was very obvious. I was running Ramsgate Music Hall so I know a lot of actors and musicians and she would say, ‘I know so and so,’ ‘ says Jo. ‘It was always quite harmless. Lots of people like to think that they know famous people.’

Not only was she cancer-free, Elkabbas, a former manager of Harrods’ fine jewellery department, was pouring huge sums of cash into her gambling addiction — at one point, she was betting £60,000 a year — both online and at a casino near to her home

Jo describes how, in what was an almost unbelievably cynical act, Elkabbas first asked her for money at the funeral of a friend who had just died of cancer.

‘She saw me as a soft touch, an easy target. I think she knew that I was very vulnerable and very susceptible to sympathising with her. I was distraught for her.

‘I was crying my eyes out and she was there, consoling me, saying, ‘I’ll get through this.’ ‘

Having already lost one friend to cancer, Jo was determined to help. She arranged a series of events where hundreds of pounds were raised for the GoFundMe campaign. She even handed over £2,000 that Elkabbas told her she needed urgently for medication, a sum that was repaid.

Jo was stunned when the truth emerged.

‘I sent her a message on Facebook saying ‘Are you OK?’ and she replied, saying ‘Believe me, it’s not what you think.’ Then I spoke to people who said they had seen her gambling.’

So what drove Elkabbas to tell such terrible lies? She grew up in the East End of London, where her father worked in the ‘rag trade’ and her mother was an occupational therapist.

The painful irony is that her childhood was marked out by her own mother’s battle with breast cancer — tragically her mother died of cancer in December, a month after her conviction.

She attended a co-educational school before starting work, aged 18, for Marks & Spencer, later moving to her prestigious role at Harrods.

For a young woman with extravagant tastes, securing such a job must have felt like a dream. Quite why she left is unclear — she claims to have also worked in the office of then chairman Mohamed Fayed. Ten years ago, she moved to the pretty seaside town of Broadstairs, where she endeavoured to set up a business, calling herself a ‘brand consultant, with an extensive portfolio of very high-profile clients’ —but also worked in a seafront restaurant and sold designer watches to friends.

Elkabbas’s time in Broadstairs is most notable for two events: the first a 2016 comedy evening in which she was the ‘star’ turn (she claimed to have a Channel 4 comedy slot in the pipeline).

A year later she arranged a boxing gala dinner at Margate Winter Gardens to raise funds for Broadstairs Town Shed, a charity helping older people who were facing loneliness.

The event was supposed to be dripping with ‘VIPs’ — but in the end all she delivered was a performance by singer Linda Lewis, a local celebrity who had several hits in the 1970s and who agreed to perform for free.

Elkabbas was found guilty of one count of fraud. She is pictured in a police mugshot 

Whether she managed to raise any funds remains something of a mystery. She told friends it was such a failure she was left out of pocket.

But Broadstairs Town Shed gave a statement to the Mail, saying: ‘The event went ahead and Ms Elkabbas publicised that she had raised £10,000 for the Shed. No funds have ever been received from this event.

‘As a charity, it is very disappointing to be promised funds and then not receive them.’

As for Linda Lewis, she only avoided being further used by Elkabbas because she rarely goes online. ‘I’m useless on the internet, which is why I didn’t give anything,’ she says. ‘I really feel sorry for her now because I can’t believe she would have done this unless she was under pressure from someone. I still didn’t believe she did it until I saw her on the news.’

In court, Oliver Kirk, in mitigation, said of Elkabbas: ‘Were it not for her gambling problem, her addiction, she would otherwise be leading a law-abiding life and, effectively, her normal good nature became overwhelmed by her compulsion to gamble.’

He said Elkabbas was a ‘vulnerable’ woman who did have a genetic predisposition to ovarian cancer.

A friend of hers, who didn’t want to be named, said: ‘She feels as though the whole world hates her. If she could, she’d give back every penny a million times over. She’s going to make sure she pays every penny back.

‘This was all because of gambling. She gambled at casinos, but the online gambling was crazy. She was using it as escapism. She’s had therapy for it now and knows it was self-harm.’

But Jo Mapp still struggles to comprehend the actions of a woman she considered a friend.

‘How can anyone do that? How could you say those things and do that? And to real people who actually cared for you?’

Additional reporting: Stephanie Condron

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