When Hanna Dickenson was 19 years old, she told her parents she had been diagnosed with cancer.
It was leiomyoscarcoma, and she wasn’t responding to treatment at the Epworth and Peter MacCallum hospitals in Melbourne.
She had just six weeks to live unless she underwent lifesaving treatment in Thailand and New Zealand, she said to them.
So, in 2012, her parents, two farmers who struggled financially, asked their friends and family for help.
Their daughter was dying, and they would do anything in power to save her life.
In a matter of months, they raised $41,770, obtaining the funds from family and friends.
Neighbours Nathan and Rachel Cue took money out of their mortgage to donate $20,000 to the Dickenson family.
And then, they logged onto Facebook.
Dickenson was not, it would seem, undergoing special treatments overseas. In multiple pictures, she was featured drinking and partying – an activity that seemed incompatible with her life-threatening illness.
The Cue family contacted the police.
“I spent a fair bit of time sussing things out,” Nathan Cue told Channel Nine. “I was 100 per cent scammed.”
Another man, who had just been discharged from hospital himself after cancer treatment, donated $10,000 to Dickenson’s cause.
The police began to uncover a number of donors, and eventually charged Dickenson with seven counts of obtaining property by deception.
This week, 24-year-old Dickenson was jailed for three months. The court also heard that she must repay her victims, and will lose her job as a real estate agent.
She told the court she was suffering from depression at the time and in a “very dark place”, and was using drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Dickenson’s lawyer, Bev Lindsay, argued that while she had “harmed some people… she didn’t ask them directly,” for money.
“She hasn’t engaged in this behaviour for three years, she’s been a model worker … she’s turned her life around, she’s proven that. To send her to prison now sends her backwards,” Lindsay said.
Magistrate David Starvaggi concluded, “Ms Dickenson engaged in conduct that tears at the very heart strings of human nature. People’s conscious desire to assist has been touched … that’s the social trust.
“These are people who worked hard and dug into their own pockets.”
Starvaggi also referred to her behaviour as “despicable”.
Dickenson’s lawyer intends to appeal the decision.