A woman faked terminal cancer to dupe devastated friends into paying Sh1.2 million (£8,500) for her dream wedding.
Toni Standen, 29, shaved her head, gave newspaper interviews and said of the cancer: “It’s gone to my brain, my bones – it’s everywhere.”
She tugged at heartstrings by saying she wanted her dad Derek, who was dying of cancer, to walk her down the aisle.
Friends launched a GoFundMe page to give Standen and partner James “a wedding they deserve”.
Derek, 57, died before the big day but a video he recorded was played.
Guests were in tears, but moments later Standen was up cracking gags.
One guest said: “After hearing her father’s laboured words she got up and gave a faultless speech, even cracking a few jokes.
“Her mother and brother were in bits. We’d all just listened to a father of the bride message from beyond the grave.
“Toni even received a video message from Everton FC, delivered by one of the top players. She laughed throughout.”
After the wedding in Widnes, Cheshire, Standen and James, 52, went to a nearby hotel. Witnesses claim she rifled through wedding cards, counting the cash inside, before heading off on honeymoon to Turkey.
Standen’s lying was finally exposed when she claimed to have coronavirus, rousing suspicion among some friends.
Now she has been told she faces jail after admitting fraud. Her friends call it the “ultimate betrayal”.
College pal Cheryl Aston, 33, who donated Sh76,900 (£525), said: “She could have won an Oscar, her acting was that good. She fooled us all. We were all completely sucked in.
“She told me she was dying and I fell for it.”
Mum-of-two Cheryl, who attended the wedding, added: “I remember her telling me that her cancer had come back and that it was terminal. She told me it had spread to her bones and her organs. I was devastated – everyone was.
“She said she wanted her dad to walk her down the aisle before either of them died. Everyone pulled together. People didn’t have much but they wanted to give what they could. I wanted to help so badly but I couldn’t afford a lot. I asked her about doing a fundraiser. She said, ‘Yeah, yeah, every little helps’.”
Another friend said: “We were all in awe of this woman who, instead of fading away as the ‘cancer’ took hold, got stronger every day. But she knew full well nobody would question the honesty or integrity of a cancer victim.”
Jobless Standen pleaded guilty last week to fraud by false representation between February 2019 and April 2020.
But in July 2017 – under her maiden name of Atherton – she was interviewed in her local paper saying she had cancer.
And in March last year she gave a second interview, revealing the “devastating” news her illness was terminal. She also said she wanted to get hitched before Derek succumbed to cancer.
The wedding – at St Bede’s Catholic Church in Widnes – was followed by a reception for 150 guests. But the lies still kept coming.
In January this year, Standen said she had two months to live and her organs had begun to fail. In February, her Facebook page said: “RIP TONI. Our lovely Toni passed away last night, surrounded by friends and family... strong until the end.”
Standen blamed the post on hackers. Friends have other theories. One said: “She did it for attention – to see what people would say about her if she died.”
In March, again appearing to defy her “illness”, Standen went on holiday with James – visiting Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary and Italy.
Then in April, she claimed to have caught Covid... which was one lie too far.
Two friends decided to question her. One said: “We rang her for a three-way conversation and recorded it. We asked her straight: ‘Have you really got cancer?’
“She started crying and admitted it was all lies. We ended the call and phoned the police straight away.”
Standen was supported by husband James at Chester magistrates court.
District judge Nicholas Sanders said she committed a “horrible breach of trust”.
A judge can order Standen to repay the donations.
Care worker Cheryl said: “If we get anything back, I’m going to donate it to a cancer charity. There needs to be some light at the end of this dark tale.”