Report by Suzanne Martin
The private secretary to Labour leader Keir Starmer says she was ‘conned’ after it was revealed she invited the Broadstairs woman convicted over a fake cancer campaign to speak at a parliamentary event about gambling.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris asked Nicole Elkabbas to join the anti-gambling event on January 25 – two months after Elkabbas was found guilty of conning more than 600 people into giving her cash believing she was suffering from ovarian cancer.
The money, which she said was for private treatment abroad, was instead splurged on holidays, gambling and luxuries.
On Saturday, The Times newspaper revealed Carolyn Harris MP had praised Elkabbas as a speaker at the Women in Gambling virtual event.
The MP is chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on gambling-related harm. The Times, which received a recording of the meeting, said attendees included Tory MPs Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Sir Mike Penning and the DUP’s Sammy Wilson.
Carolyn Harris had also previously written to the Judge heading Elkabbas’s trial, providing her with a character reference.
Judge Mark Weekes said at the sentencing earlier this month: “I am astonished to read from Mrs Carolyn Harris MP that she considers you were ‘honest about the crimes you had committed’.”
The letter has raised fresh questions about MPs trying to influence sentencing decisions. In November Labour accused a group of Tory MPs, including Thanet’s Sir Roger Gale, of seeking special treatment after they were condemned for seeking to “influence a judge” in the trial of the former Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke.
The Isle of Thanet News contacted Carolyn Harris MP to ask how Elkabbas had become the poster-girl for the group of parliamentarians in their fight against gambling addiction.
Hearing the full extent of Elkabbas’ conviction, for the “first time” Carolyn Harris said: “I’ve been conned, it’s all I can say.”
She then elaborated to say Elkabbas had “got the trust of the gambling community. They’ve obviously taken that to heart”.
Speaking last weekend, the MP said Elkabbas had been “recommended by a community of problem gamblers”. Carolyn Harris also noted that Elkabass was believed to have “seen the top psychiatrist or psychologist in gambling addictions in the country”.
Carolyn Harris now says “she might have been targeted” by Elkabbas, adding: “one thing that somebody said to me is she wasn’t remorseful”.
While Elkabbas had spent money gambling, and told the court she had an addiction, she had also enjoyed luxury shopping trips and holidays at the expense of her victims.
MP Harris said she “did not know” that Elkabbas had pleaded “not guilty” to the fraud charges and did not know about the false claim by Elkabbas that she was suffering from cancer. Nor did she know that Elkabbas had been spending large sums of stolen money on luxuries rather than gambling.
The day after the anti-gambling event Elkabbas was offered and subsequently appeared as a guest on the highly respected BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
Her very public rehabilitation was in overdrive. She talked to presenter Melanie Abbott about her “addiction” and the fraud, placing herself at the heart of harrowing stories and blaming her addiction. She failed to reveal on the show that the fraud also funded multiple luxury holidays and high living.
Carolyn Harris MP has now vowed to distance the group from Elkabbas, saying: “In light of our conversation I spoke to people from the APPG. We will be distancing ourselves from her.” Harris also advised that a statement would be issued later this week from the APPG.
She added: “We feel that we have been the victims of an exaggeration” and said the group was “devastated that she has possibly damaged victims and the good work that we do. We’ve got to salvage the APPG, we can’t have that damaged. ”
Harris has dedicated a large part of her political career to helping people in the grip of crippling gambling addiction.
She said, “I’m trying to find a way to make the gambling laws in this country so that they are safe for people who are vulnerable.”
The MP revealed her community had also been paying bus fares for Elkabbas to attend voluntary work despite the Broadstairs mother having been spotted driving a green Mini Bayswater.
Carolyn Harris said: “She’s violated the trust, exploited my main need, my desire,to support people who have gambling addiction.”
Canterbury Crown Court heard the true extent of Elkabbas’ fraud was for £52,850 with 697 individual payments made to GoFundMe and more than 600 victims in total.
On February 10 she was found guilty of two counts of fraud and possession of criminal property relating to money she received between February and August, 2018 through her fake cancer campaign. She was sentenced to a prison term of two years and nine months.
A one year sentence was passed to run concurrently (alongside rather than after) the main sentence.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from Gambling Addiction you can contact
Gamblers Anonymous or visit your GP for support