Plumber who gave services for free accused of raising millions with fake stories

A plumbing firm which hit the headlines for fixing pipes and boilers for vulnerable customers free of charge is under investigation after allegations it used fake stories to raise millions of pounds.

A BBC investigation claims 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 – allegations he denied.

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

The firm went viral in 2019 and claims to have helped thousands of elderly and disabled people for free, fundraising millions and garnering support from celebrity donors including actor Hugh Grant, who has donated tens of thousands of pounds.

The BBC’s claims include that the company said Mr Anderson’s help saved an elderly woman from suicide – a woman the broadcaster said had actually died years earlier.

It claims it found photographs had been recycled in misleading social media posts, while a victim of domestic abuse was accused of theft and people’s images were used without consent.

In a response to the BBC, who are set to air a documentary on their findings, Mr Anderson denied some allegations but also apologised and admitted he had “made mistakes”.

Speaking to the BBC from his Burnley offices, Mr Anderson said: “I know I’ve done it wrong. I apologise. But what can I do? I haven’t got a magic stick. I’m not Harry Potter.”

Wonka photo call – London
Actor Hugh Grant donated thousands of pounds (Ian West/PA)

He pledged to return some of the donated money connected with specific allegations made by the BBC.

“If Hugh (Grant) wants the money back, I’ll send it back to him, not a problem,” Mr Anderson told the broadcaster.

“I apologise, I really do apologise. And I hope you can find it in your heart to accept it.

“I’m really sorry and I will make amends.”

Mr Anderson has made a series of posts to his Facebook page over the past 24 hours highlighting dozens of images of people his company are said to have helped.

And in a post Mr Anderson shared on Wednesday last week, he said: “The BBC News and online trolls are trying to shut Depher CIC Community initiative down.”

The statement added: “They will show warranted questions about safeguarding and pictures, mistakes that have been made over the years, mistakes that have now been apologised for and training is now in place to stop it from happening again.

“Also about how we spend our income, what we pay for etc.”

A spokesperson for the Fundraising Regulator said: “The Fundraising Regulator has opened an investigation into Depher CIC to determine whether or not its fundraising has breached sections of the Code of Fundraising Practice.

“The Fundraising Regulator cannot comment on this investigation while it is ongoing.”

An ICO spokesperson 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.

“Anyone who has concerns about how their information has been used can complain to us.”

Mr Anderson and Depher CIC have been contacted by the PA news agency for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.