‘Hero plumber’ accused of faking stories complains to Ofcom over BBC probe

Emma Stanley & PA News,BBC News, Lancashire

Reuters James AndersonReuters

James Anderson says he has apologised for mistakes but some images were doctored by online trolls

The founder of a plumbing firm accused of faking stories of good deeds has said he has complained to Ofcom about a BBC investigation, claiming there is a “witch hunt” against him.

The BBC revealed on Thursday that James Anderson’s firm, Depher, a social enterprise, faked stories of helping people as it raised millions in donations.

Mr Anderson from Burnley said he had put a complaint in to the communications regulator, claiming online trolls sent “doctored” images to the BBC.

The BBC said the allegations had been “thoroughly and independently investigated” and interviews were included with a range of people.

Reuters James AndersonReuters

James Anderson was given the British Citizenship Award in 2023 for his work

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 said 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 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]”.

He added: “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.”

‘A lie’

A BBC spokeswoman said the investigation was “made in line with the highest editorial standards” and was “firmly in the public interest”.

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

Mr Anderson 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 was reviewing four complaints about Depher CIC.

Earlier, the British Citizen Award rescinded an accolade it awarded to Mr Anderson, saying information which had come to light about Mr Anderson’s actions did not “align with our values”.

Mr Anderson said that was “up to them” and “their choice”.

The plumber went viral in 2019 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.”

Depher

Depher is based in Burnley

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

“The family posted the photo, not me.”

The BBC also said Depher used 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 was 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”.