real life

Megan Bhari's mum Jean said her daughter had a brain tumour. Joanna knew she was lying.

Joanna Ashcroft vividly remembers the moment she was told Megan Bhari - the co-founder of children's charity Believe in Magic - had died. 

Megan was 23 when she passed away in 2018. Throughout her life, Megan's mother Jean had told the world about her daughter's health struggles, saying she had a brain tumour. 

But as they fundraised for treatment for Megan and the attention on them grew, it raised suspicions among a small group of parents in the child cancer community, who were concerned that Jean was allegedly lying about her daughter's brain cancer diagnosis. 

One of those who had this gut feeling was Joanna.

"It was a crazy time," Joanna tells Mamamia. "But I followed my intuition and it was proven to be accurate."

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Video via Mamamia.

The story goes as follows.

In 2012, Believe in Magic was set up by 16-year-old Megan Bhari and her mother Jean.

The charity's aim was to help the needs of children and young people up to the age of 18 in the UK suffering from serious or terminal illness. This was done in a 'make-a-wish' sort of way, granting hundreds of sick children's wishes - from lavish parties to sending families on holiday or letting them meet their 'celebrity superhero'.


It was an extremely successful charity that did a lot of good for a number of years, and it raised a large amount of money. 

But there was also significant controversy unearthed by a group of concerned parents, one of them being Joanna.

Around this time, Jean tried to raise money for an emergency trip for Megan to see a doctor in America.

Joanna could relate to this situation as she too had previously raised money in order to take her son to America for cancer treatment. 

"We had a very public appeal and Megan must have seen it. My son was diagnosed in 2011 with stage four Neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer. Megan added me on Facebook, and I accepted Megan's friend request. Shortly after she private messaged me inviting my son to a party at Hamleys Toy Store in London," says Joanna.

"At first I was reading Jean's appeal out of interest. With most types of cancer in the UK, the treatment you are offered is as good as other countries. You're unlucky really if there is a treatment you deem to be superior as it usually comes with high costs if it's in another country."

But there was an omission in the appeal that raised alarm bells for Joanna. 


"Megan's appeal didn't mention the hospital or the doctors. It sounded like Megan was extremely unwell and was being treated by many different experts but none of them were named. The wording was 'an amazing neurosurgeon' or 'an incredible oncologist' in America. Megan was being treated by 'world-leading experts' and I guess I was interested who they were [given my son's history]. I couldn't think of any reason why not to name the expert."

Megan Bhari prior to her death. Image: Twitter.


Joanna and some other parents in the community also felt that what Jean had said about the cancer itself in the appeal wasn't medically accurate. So they began to dig deeper.

The red flags from Joanna's perspective were as follows:

1) None of Jean's family members were publicly sharing the appeals. Joanna contacted Megan's uncles, aunties and "they wanted to be kept out of it" says Joanna. Apart from Jean, Megan's family didn't seem to be acknowledging her appeal for lifesaving treatment.

2) Jean refused to say who Megan's doctors and oncologists were and which hospital she was being treated at. "I couldn't think of any reason why you would refuse to give that when you are asking the public for money," notes Joanna.

3) Megan would go from "desperate and exaggerated health updates" and then would be seen at charity events the following week appearing in good health. 

It was eventually found that when the mother-daughter duo were supposed to be in a US hospital, they were instead at a luxury hotel at Disney World in Florida.

And when Jean reportedly posted on social media that she and her daughter would be returning home with "five cases of medical kit and a huge oxygen concentrator", they were photographed getting off the cruise terminal from their holiday with no oxygen tanks. A private investigator claimed the pair were "laughing and chatting" as they pushed luggage trolleys piled high with cases.


"When Jean answered the phone to us from her hotel room in a luxury Disney holiday villa, we knew we weren't wrong," says Joanna. 

"Jean was getting parents of sick children to post updates for her on how Megan was barely making it through the night. She was asking for donations. If Megan and Jean couldn't afford Megan's soaring hospital bills what was Jean doing in a luxury five-star Disney holiday complex?"

Joanna Ashcroft. Image: Supplied.


As for what Jean's reaction was to the growing number of questions, she denied all the allegations.

"Some of the families that had been supported by Believe in Magic were extremely angry at us and thought we were in the wrong for asking questions. Jean encouraged them to vilify us. She would message them to say how heartbroken and devastated we were making her which then made them angrier at us. This prevented Jean from having to answer difficult questions we were asking and meant that it created a divide in the children's cancer community," says Joanna.

Then in 2018, Megan passed away aged 23.

"I remember being in a state of deep shock. We were hoping it wasn't true," Joanna reflects. 

An inquest into Megan's death took place and confirmed Megan had been unwell throughout her life. But most of the conditions she had were "in theory manageable".

No brain tumour was found in the autopsy. Instead, Megan was found to have died from an abnormality of the rhythm of the heart, linked to fatty liver disease. This is typically caused by living extremely unhealthily for years and years. It is a preventable condition.

Professor Marc Feldman is one of the world's most renowned experts on factitious disorders. One disorder he knows a significant amount on is Munchausen by proxy, now known in the UK as Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII).


It's a rare form of child abuse where a parent or carer exaggerates or deliberately causes symptoms of illness in the child. He says some people do it for money, others want attention or have a desire to be cared for.

Professor Feldman claimed to the BBC that he personally believes Megan's case "screams" of FII. It is of course, an allegation.

A review from Kingston Council - as per The Times - later said: "Despite there being no formal diagnosis of FII in this case, the presentation and coroner's conclusion lead all involved to think it was likely to have been FII."

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Once it was revealed that Megan had not had a brain tumour - like was suggested by Jean - Joanna felt vindicated. They had been right all along.

"We are human and it was not an easy time. We did what we did as we didn't want Jean to take advantage of future vulnerable parents. I followed my intuition and it was proven to be accurate," she says. 

"I just find it extremely sad that Megan lost her life. We spent a lot of time and effort trying to get people and authorities to listen to us once we realised how vulnerable she was. Maybe had someone listened it could have been a different outcome. We will never know."


Six years ago, the UK's Charity Commission began an investigation into Believe in Magic and found sums of more than £100,000 missing and money transferred into Jean's personal bank account. It was subsequently shut down in 2020.

In a statement to the BBC recently, Jean said: "I loved and cared for my daughter. Suggesting I might have harmed her in any way at all is absolutely sickening."

Recently the case has been brought to the surface again via the successful BBC podcast Believe in Magic, made by journalist Jamie Bartlett. Joanna spoke to Bartlett for the podcast, saying she decided to share her side of the story for one major reason. 

"It has been 12 years since I entered the hell that is childhood cancer. Parents are petrified, stressed and at times desperate. I have seen unscrupulous characters try to take advantage of these families. I want people to know it is okay to ask questions of charities. If they are legitimate, then there would be no problem with answering any concerns," she tells Mamamia

"The majority of charities are doing great work for worthwhile causes. I don't want people to stop giving to charity. We relied on the public's generosity to get our son the treatment he needed. However, if something doesn't make sense to you, then it's okay to ask for clarity."

Feature Image: Supplied.