Published: 13:09, 10 February 2021
| Updated: 16:38, 10 February 2021
In November last year, Nicole Elkabbas's lies finally caught up with her.
A jury found the 42-year-old Broadstairs mum guilty of faking cancer to fritter tens of thousands of pounds on casinos and bingo.
Jaw-dropping revelations emerging during the court case received national attention - with the trial even covered by newspapers in Australia and the US.
But it was only the final chapter of a four year-long story. By then Elkabbas had already left her victims stunned and medical professionals wrought with anxiety.
One victim says she feels Elkabbas is "laughing in her face" after duping her into believing she was near death.
The mother-of-one even falsely accused doctors of both missing and then wrongly diagnosing ovarian cancer as part of her scam.
She would go on to syphon £40,000 of GoFundMe donations into her account to spend on holidays, Tottenham Hotspur tickets, hair extensions and jaunts abroad.
Dealings with doctors
The story began in early 2017, when Dr Nicholas Morris met Elkabbas at a London charity dinner, where she was hostess.
Soon becoming friends, the pair emailed regularly in a non-doctor-patient capacity. It is a professional faux pas to have pals on your patient list in the UK.
Dr Morris would even go on to lend Elkabbas £25,000 that year - which she dutifully paid back - yet their friendship wavered and he wouldn’t hear from her until 2018.
Meanwhile, the former Harrods fashion consultant was referred to Dr George Tsavellas at Margate’s private Spencer Hospital for a routine gallbladder operation in November.
Not only did the key-hole surgery go smoothly, but Dr Tsavellas took photos of Elkabbas’s ovary to help allay her fears of ovarian cysts.
During her two-day stay in the Spencer unit, Elkabbas had a snap taken of her lying on her back, eyes closed, mouth open and appearing exceptionally ill.
This photo would become the smoking gun which would later trigger the collapse of her labyrinth of lies.
But first, Elkabbas, still suffering abdominal pains, was referred to Doctor Graham Ross, a consultant gynaecologist at the QEQM in Margate.
The specialist, a leader in his field, suspected a dermoid cyst.
He completed an ultrasound, bloodworks to check for tumour-markers and a laparoscopy - the ‘gold standard of investigations.’An MRI scan confirmed the dermoid cyst - a common condition - with no “suspicious features".
Elkabbas's blood test tumour-markers also showed no cause for concern and Dr Ross discharged her.
Allegations of conning local charity
It has recently emerged that during this time, Elkabbas held a boxing gala to raise money for the Broadstairs Town Team and its project, The Shed - a woodworking scheme for older people.
A spokeswoman for the town team told how they were approached by Elkabbas, who wanted The Shed to be the nominated recipient for the charity fundraising event.
"Ms Elkabbas said the funds from the auction would be raised for the Shed," she said.
"The event went ahead and Ms Elkabbas publicised that she had raised £10,000 for the Shed."
But the Broadstairs Town Team, which was recently awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service for the project, based in St Peter's, says no funds have ever been received from the event.
"As a charity it is very disappointing to be promised funds and then not receive them," she said.
"The Shed is an important part of many people’s lives.
"Older people are often forgotten about and the Shed provides them with social interaction with other like-minded people who can work together on woodworking projects for the community."
Elkabbas said police were provided with all the relevant information.
Det Sgt Marc Cananur said the force was notified in April 2019 of an allegation of fraud that was reported to have been committed in May 2017 by an individual who had already been charged in connection with serious fraud offences.
He said: "Details of the alleged offence were recorded but no further action was taken in light of the ongoing investigation, as it was deemed disproportionate to carry out further inquiries when the new allegation was unlikely to have resulted in any differences to the level of sentence imposed on the suspect upon conviction.
"A review of the suspect’s finances revealed there was also little prospect of the victim receiving any of the money that was reportedly owed to them.
"The victim was encouraged to report the incident to Action Fraud and to consider taking alternative action to request compensation from the suspect."
Gambling on GoFundMe scam
While her health was in good shape, Elkabbas’s bank account continued to haemorrhage money. Records showed she spent £59,000 on gambling in 2017, including a large number of payments and withdrawals for casinos and online betting sites.
She then met with Dr Morris in January 2018 and announced she had a missed case of ovarian cancer, despite being given a clean bill of health weeks before at the QEQM.
Elkabbas never disclosed where she received the diagnosis. Dr Morris said after he recommended her to see a top Kent gynaecologist he knew, she became angry.
Elkabbas shunned his advice in favour of crowdfunding instead, and so on February 16 a page appeared on GoFundMe dubbed: Nicole Needs Your Help - Treatment.
Screenshots saved by KentOnline before police pulled the page down showed a desperate plea for help from her mum, Delores Elkabbas, a cancer survivor.
It said: “Our beautiful daughter Nicole and loving mother to her dear 11-year-old son, has recently been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It has been a tough several months to say the very least and it’s all still overwhelming.
“I know the true fears she is facing, all the fears that come with having cancer and being a mum and trying desperately to keep things normal.
“Nicole has done all her research, met with now 3 specialists and has all her confidence in Spain, where she can have everything done, she feels very confident in the team.”
It added she only had three weeks to drum up the cash before Josep Taberno’s team could perform surgery in Spain.
A slew of messages appeared on the page in the coming weeks, where Elkabbas gave updates on her condition and urged people to donate “urgently” and “spread the word.”
She would also target 18,000 people on Facebook’s Latte Lounge, a group for women over 40, after convincing administrator Katie Taylor she was sick.
Regularly, Elkabbas would pop up on the group’s wall with detailed updates on her treatment, stressing she needed more money to keep herself alive and care for her son.
It prompted well-wishers to donate thousands of pounds as she began grooming members in private chats, urging Good Samaritans to donate directly to her bank - one individual even gave £7,000.
'I felt small - and really stupid'
Katie Taylor, administrator of the Latte Lounge group, has told how she felt nauseous, suffered insomnia and wept for days after learning she and others had been conned.
In March 2018, her friend had brought Elkabbas’s plight to her attention - a young mum desperate to raise £30,000 within 24 hours in her fight against cancer.
After posting the link, it received hundreds of positive comments from generous donors. Ms Taylor herself kindly donated £20.
Elkabbas would update the group on her medical state, how expensive the treatment was and how she was feeling.
She would then post directly in the group to promote her GoFundMe campaign.
In a blog post on her Latte Lounge website, Ms Taylor said: “At one point, she explained that she needed more money for further rounds of treatment and was exceptionally grateful to us all."
When Ms Taylor offered to help kick-start a media campaign Elkabbas refused, claiming it would impede her family’s privacy.
Elkabbas then said she needed $17,000 a month, posting pictures of her inside a hospital and adding she was happy her dog could sit with her.
On hearing the whole saga was a fraud, Ms Taylor said: “I felt sick, repulsed, in shock, stunned and could not function properly. I felt violated, used, betrayed, ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated, depressed and deflated.
“I did not stop crying and couldn’t sleep for days and weeks after.
“I couldn’t believe this was true, I felt small and really, really stupid.
“How could someone take advantage of me and our group members like this for so many months?”
She added: “All those private messages to me with such detail with updates of treatment and how things were going, with photos of her and her son in hospital.
“All the personal help and support and signposting I gave her through those private messages including offering the support of others.
“I felt like Nicole must have been laughing in my face at how gullible I was. It was so humiliating.”
Casinos, holidays and Premier League tickets
But not a penny would ever be spent on cancer treatment.
In less than a year Elkabbas plunged £68,000 into a spiralling gambling addiction online and at the Grosvenor Casino in Margate Road, Broadstairs.
Bank records also showed trips to Rome and spending sprees in Madrid and Barcelona, while £3,592 went on Tottenham Hotspurs tickets.
Cash was splurged on hair extensions, foreign restaurants and four-star hotels in the centre of Barcelona, where she would also visit the Basílica de la Sagrada Família while posing on social media as stricken with the deadly disease. Thousands of pounds were also used to pay back an old debt and a total of £580 was spent with the Expedia travel company.
The day before her arrest there was even a transaction for £17 at a Barcelona supermarket.
Back in Kent, the three senior doctors caught up in Elkabbas’s fantasy, where she claimed to be sick in a Barcelona hospital bed, were becoming aware of her online trickery.
Dr Morris recognised the distinct wallpaper in the background of her hospital photo as belonging to the Spencer Hospital, where he had in fact worked, and not the Centro Medico Teknon Hospital where she claimed to be.
Dr Tsavellas, who worked at the Spencer Hospital, became aware of the GoFundMe campaign and was in “disbelief” as he became suspicious of the image. His colleagues also identified the snap as being taken at their hospital in November 2017 and not in Barcelona Spring 2018.
Meanwhile, Dr Ross would go on vacation early 2018 after telling Elkabbas she carried “no signs of ovarian cancer”.
But the East Kent Hospitals specialist was also struck by “disbelief” upon hearing Elkabbas had set up the ‘Nicole needs our help treatments’ page.
He wrote to Elkabbas asking for more details on her alleged diagnosis in March, as his potential failings would automatically trigger an NHS investigation into his conduct.
In a brash move, Elkabbas then told the doctor’s secretary she was “disappointed” he missed her diagnosis and that he took so long to get in touch with her.
She refused to hand over evidence because the probe into the doctor “was not her priority” and “she is dealing with things herself” privately.
She added she would forward medical papers in the future but “now is her time and not Mr Ross’s”.
Meanwhile, the doctor faced an unprecedented dilemma. As she was officially in his care, he had a duty of patient confidentiality in disclosing to the authorities that she was well and not dying.
The Medical Defence Union - a body that provides healthcare professionals with support - advised he provided a witness statement to police.
Arrest and conviction
When officers arrested Elkabbas at her home in Edge End Road, she said she had an ovary removed and was receiving chemotherapy.
An unmarked blister pack was discovered in her home, which Elkabbas claimed was a ground-breaking cancer drug, but lab results came back inconclusive.
The officer in the case then contacted the Centro Médico Teknon and spoke to Dr Josep Tabernero. There were no records of her treatment.
He was also unable to identify a “Dr Suarez”, who Elkabbas later claimed was the head clinician who worked underneath Dr Tabernero.
Elkabbas, a carer for her mother who has cancer, would tell the court Dr Morris diagnosed her with ovarian cancer at an Edwardian home in Dollis Hill January 2018 - a claim he repeatedly denied.
She added Dr Suarez treated her in Barcelona on six occasions, but had since disappeared. Subsequent trips to Spain were attempts to locate the missing surgeon “while thinking she was going mad”.
Elkabbas, of previous good character, tried convincing the jury Dr Morris “bombarded her”, telling her she urgently needed a hysterectomy and would pay for her treatment.
But he and Dr Suarez subsequently blocked her following the arrest, Elkabbas claimed, and Dr Morris had set out to “frame” her.
The jury convicted Elkabbas, of Edge End Road, of fraud and possession of criminal property, namely charitable donations.
It returned majority verdicts of nine to one on both counts.
Judge Mark Weekes referred to Elkabbas as a "fantasist" and wanted to spread the message "far and wide" the “wild allegations” against the doctors were a deceitful make-believe.
He said Elkabbas was convicted on "clear and compelling evidence" and she had caused “anxiety and stress” among those doctors who sought to help her.
The judge released Elkabbass on conditional bail after telling her to expect a spell in prison.