‘Hero plumber’ James Anderson has citizen award rescinded

By Rebecca Wearn & Ed Thomas,BBC News

Reuters James AndersonReuters

James Anderson, from Burnley, Lancashire, was given the British Citizenship Award in 2023 for his work

The man once dubbed the country’s “kindest plumber” has had his British Citizen Award rescinded following a BBC investigation.

James Anderson, from Burnley, was given the accolade in 2023 for his work providing boilers and plumbing services for free.

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

A spokeswoman from the British Citizen Awards said information which had come to light about Mr Anderson’s actions did not “align with our values”.

She added: “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 BBC found Depher used vulnerable people’s photos without consent and claimed Mr Anderson had prevented an elderly woman from killing herself, but in fact she had died years earlier.

Mr Anderson denied some of the BBC’s allegations but admitted: “I’ve made mistakes.”

Social media stories made him a viral sensation during the UK’s cost-of-living crisis and the company brought in at least £2m in donations, according to a BBC analysis of his company accounts.

Among the donors were, reportedly, celebrities such as the singer Lily Allen and actor Hugh Grant, who gave £75,000.

‘Not charitable’

The Fundraising Regulator has confirmed to the BBC it has opened an investigation into Depher Community Interest Company (CIC) to “determine whether or not its fundraising has breached sections of the Code of Fundraising Practice”.

The four key values which underpin the code are that fundraising must be legal, open, honest, and respectful.

The regulator said it could not comment further while the investigation was ongoing.

The BBC also contacted GoFundMe, Crowdfunder and JustGiving regarding more than 28 appeals found across their sites, raising more than £1.2m for Depher CIC.

A GoFundMe representative said safety was paramount for its users and it would cooperate with any investigation.

A Crowdfunder statement said: “We encourage all project owners to be absolutely transparent about their aims and what they will spend funds raised on.”

JustGiving said it took any allegations of wrongdoing “extremely seriously”.

Reuters James AndersonReuters

James Anderson also received a Pride of Britain Manchester Special Recognition Award in 2022

The Charity Commission has confirmed to the BBC it refused three applications from Depher CIC to become a charity.

The first, in 2020, was rejected for being incomplete.

In 2022 and 2023, the Commission concluded that the “organisation was not charitable”.

“We were not satisfied how those in need of assistance were being identified, how their charitable needs were being assessed and how the services provided met a charitable need,” a spokesperson told the BBC.

As a CIC Depher operates in the same way as a limited company, but it also provides a defined public benefit, such as using its profits to benefit a community in some way.

The CIC Regulator would not confirm or deny if it was currently investigating but Mr Anderson told the BBC that he was working with the regulator.

James Anderson’s DEPHER CIC

James Anderson’s Depher CIC is not a registered charity

Since 2019, Depher has posted hundreds of stories about acts of kindness it says it carried out and used photos of vulnerable people.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said it had received four complaints regarding the firm.

The watchdog said: “All organisations must be clear and transparent with people about how and why they collect and intend to use their data.

“This ensures people can make a fully informed decision about their personal information and know what they are consenting to.”

Mr Anderson pledged to return some of the donated money connected to specific misleading posts or safeguarding issues raised by the BBC.

The plumber told the BBC he was looking for forgiveness from the country, adding: “I apologise, I really do apologise… I’m really sorry and I will make amends. “