Britain’s ‘kindest plumber’ James Anderson apologises for ‘fake stories’ using dead woman to raise donations

James Anderson founded Depher to provide plumbing and heating services to the elderly and vulnerable  (James Anderson/PA)
James Anderson founded Depher to provide plumbing and heating services to the elderly and vulnerable (James Anderson/PA)

A man dubbed “Britain’s kindest plumber” has been accused of faking heartwarming acts of kindness as he pushes for donations.

Burnley-based tradesman James Anderson, 56, set up Depher – which stands for Disabled and Elderly, Plumbing and Heating Emergency Response – in 2017, but has now been accused by the BBC of recycling photos of the same dead woman in social media posts.

He also allegedly repeatedly posted video and images of a vulnerable man in his nineties publicising information about his sexuality, despite the unnamed customer pleading “God no” when asked if he would agree to be filmed for social media, according to the BBC.

One post from 12 June 2022, said: “A lady, 84 years old rang @DepherUK & spoke to myself, she was upset and desperate. She lived 53 miles away in #Preston I drive as fast as I could, when [I] got there she had a noose ready to commit suicide.

“All she wanted was hot water! #costoflivingcrisis.”

A BBC investigation found he recycled the image of a woman named Joyce seven times under different ages and locations, even after she had died in February 2020, a year before Depher posted about first helping her.

Her daughter, Andrea, told the broadcaster the posts were “a complete lie”, adding, “he’s using vulnerable people like my mother as a money-making machine.”

Depher has claimed to use donations to provide free food, pay gas and electricity bills, offer pro bono plumbing work and help with funeral costs of late customers.

Mr Anderson’s acts quickly went viral and he has been backed financially by celebrities including Hugh Grant and Lily Allen as well as appearing on ITV’s This Morning to promote his charity.

But the BBC accused him of using donations to buy a house and Mr Anderson also admitted to buying a car with company cash.

He said the rent from the property allowed him to reopen a food drive that the “community benefits from massively”.

Since the accusations came to light Mr Anderson has continued to post pictures of elderly people he has claimed to help.

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.”

James Anderson with an elderly customer (Depher)
James Anderson with an elderly customer (Depher)

He claimed to have made errors because of a relentless campaign of “bullying, harassment and attacks” from trolls on social media.

He took to Facebook on Thursday to post: “Mistakes were made and apologised for, training and procedures are in place to stop them happening again.”

Previously he defended himself from a “witchhunt” trying to close his charity down. He had previously claimed to have helped over two million people but has since backed down from that figure.

On 8 May he wrote on Facebook: “[Trolls] also accused me of purchasing a house with donations, I purchased a house with profits for Depher and it is in dephers name, the rent from the property has allowed us to reopen the food drive, and the community benefits from this, massively.

“They have accused us of fixing the tombola, a ex employee has been shown holding tickets that were hidden, but also allowed family, friends and their partner to play it! If it was fixed and the person knew it, why let them play it?”

It came after it emerged during the 2016 Brexit campaign, the plumber shared a picture of a golly doll.

Speaking to The Independent, Anderson said: “In 2016, during the Brexit campaign, I reposted that picture (of a golly doll) with no comments.”

Anderson insisted he was unaware of the offensive racist connotations attached to the golly doll due to his childhood.

The BBC’s analysis of Depher’s accounts, covering April 2021 to April 2023, found that cash donations had doubled to more than £1.2m.

Depher have been approached for comment.