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Plumber accused by BBC of raising millions with fake stories complains to Ofcom

James Anderson, the founder of Depher CIC (Handout/James Anderson/PA)
James Anderson, the founder of Depher CIC (Handout/James Anderson/PA)

The founder of a plumbing firm accused of faking stories of good deeds to raise millions of pounds said he has complained to Ofcom over the BBC’s investigation, claiming there is a “witch hunt” against him.

A BBC probe published on Thursday claimed Depher CIC, a social enterprise, used images of vulnerable people without their consent and faked stories about acts of kindness.

Founder James Anderson, a plumber from Burnley, was also accused by the broadcaster of spending company money on a house and car, which he has denied.

Mr Anderson told the PA news agency he apologised and has “held (his) hands up” about mistakes made by the company, but said he has submitted a complaint to the communications regulator over the BBC investigation, claiming online trolls sent “doctored” images to the broadcaster.

The BBC report said Depher CIC claimed Mr Anderson’s help saved an elderly woman from suicide – a woman the broadcaster said had died years earlier.

Mr Anderson claimed the screenshot of a social media post used in the BBC article, which shows him sitting next to an elderly woman with an emoji over her face and words suggesting he prevented her from committing suicide, had been “constructed” by individuals online.

“I do believe I am being set up in a witch hunt by these individuals from Twitter and Facebook to send over doctored pictures to the BBC,” he said.

“Somewhere, someone has actually constructed all this and sent it over to the reporter.

“I did not put that post out saying she had tried to (take her own life).

Plumber helps the elderly for free
James Anderson said he is ‘apologetic’ over the mistakes which have been made (Handout/James Anderson)

“I’ve sent a complaint to Ofcom and I’m waiting for them to come back to me because I’m going to go all the way with this because that is totally wrong.”

Mr Anderson said he has apologised for mistakes such as “using the same photos without putting dates on” and “not safeguarding individuals correctly”.

“I am so apologetic for that, I really am, I should have been more cautious on the pictures we’ve shared, more cautious on the information we put out there,” he said.

“On my behalf, I am very sorry, that is my mistake and a mistake I have to live with and rectify.”

The company is under investigation by the Fundraising Regulator to determine whether it breached regulations, while the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it has received four complaints about Depher CIC which are under review.

On Friday, the British Citizen Award rescinded an accolade it awarded to Mr Anderson, saying his actions “do not align with our values”, which Mr Anderson said was “up to them” and “their choice”.

PA first spoke to Mr Anderson in 2019 when he went viral after a picture of a bill for £0 to a 91-year-old woman with acute leukaemia was shared online – a story he stands by.

The receipt for the free boiler repair was accompanied by a note reading: “No charge for this lady under any circumstances. We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible.”

Mr Anderson said the picture was accurate, adding: “Obviously I supplied the free service.

“The family posted the photo, not me.”

The BBC also accused Depher of using company money to purchase personal items such as a house and a car.

Asked where the money raised in donations had gone, Mr Anderson said: “Every penny that has been donated has gone to members of the public and gone to people who need it, I’ve got no fear of that.

“Every single penny has gone on food, gas, electric, boilers, repairs, everything that’s needed for people in the community.

“If people feel that they’ve been scammed, they feel they’ve been scammed because of a lie, not because of the truth, and I can prove where the money has gone.”

Mr Anderson said he is taking steps to “rectify” his mistakes, including enlisting a social media manager to operate the company’s online platforms, with Mr Anderson saying he will “never touch it again”.

He added: “Please don’t judge us by mistakes because we’ve done a lot of good all over the United Kingdom.”

A spokesperson from the British Citizen Awards said: “We pride ourselves in recognising individuals across the UK who work tirelessly and selflessly to make a positive impact on their communities and charities.

“The information that has come to light about James Anderson’s actions do not align with our values and we have therefore informed him of our decision to rescind the award.”

A BBC spokesperson told PA: “The investigation is made in line with the highest editorial standards and is firmly in the public interest.

“The allegations have been thoroughly and independently investigated, and we include interviews with a range of people.

“Mr Anderson’s position, including his apologies, is referenced throughout.”

PA has contacted Ofcom for comment.