DEPHER founder James Anderson apologises over faked social media posts and 'vows to return donations'

The founder of a social enterprise set up to help the most vulnerable in society amid the cost of living crisis has apologised for 'misleading' social media posts, and pledged he would be open to returning donations.

In a documentary by the BBC released this morning (May 16), they claim DEPHER CIC 'faked stories of helping people' and that the social enterprise 'used vulnerable people's photos without consent'. Mr Anderson told LancsLive that 'mistakes were made' but denied several of the broadcaster's allegations.

LancsLive confirmed yesterday (May 15) that the firm is under investigation by the Fundraising Regulator.

James Anderson, dubbed "Britain's kindest plumber", set up Burnley-based DEPHER CIC (Disabled and Elderly, Plumbing and Heating Emergency Response) in 2017. The firm has helped thousands of people across the region by installing boilers, giving away free food and paying gas and electricity bills to those on the breadline.


It relies heavily on donations from members of the public and celebrities including actor Hugh Grant and singer Lily Allen are among those who have pledged their support in recent years. Investigations by two other bodies, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the CIC (Community Interest Company) Regulator, Anderson says, have both been concluded.

Neither body has confirmed this.

The BBC investigation said analysis of his company accounts showed social media stories made Mr Anderson a viral hit on social media during the cost of living crisis and resulted in donations of at least £2 million. However, the BBC says when they examined hundreds of the DEPHER CIC social media posts and interviewed the families behind them, it 'revealed a pattern of lies and allegations of exploitation'.

This included 'multiple examples' of DEPHER CIC reusing the same photos in 'misleading and false posts'. The BBC said Mr Anderson deleted their main social media account during their investigation.

He told the BBC: "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."

Mr Anderson said mistakes were made as a result of a relentless campaign of "bullying, harassment and attacks" by online trolls. In one post on X, formerly Twitter, DEPHER reportedly included a picture of an unnamed woman next to Mr Anderson, with her face covered by an emoji.

The BBC investigation alleges it found the image had been used a total of seven times between February 2021 and August 2023, with different ages and locations, and that the woman had died over a year before they began using her image. Her daughter told the BBC the details posted by Mr Anderson were "a complete lie"

He denied posting the image himself but admitted the post was "not true" and said he apologised to the family, telling the BBC: "That’s not the lady."

DEPHER CIC also posted an image of another woman with her face blacked out and claimed that she had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Mr Anderson told the BBC that the post was "a lie" after they identified her from previous DEPHER posts and pledged to investigate how it was sent from his company's X account.

DEPHER CIC is not officially classed as a charity, but can accept donations as a community interest company. These operate to provide a benefit to the community they serve - and its purpose must be primarily one of community benefit rather than private profit.

The BBC said company filings showed that DEPHER CIC bought a house as an "investment property" for £73,125 and their investigation learned it is rented out to a member of Mr Anderson's extended family. He said the house was bought using profits from paid work, and that it was permitted by the regulations for CICs and that the CIC Regulator was aware of it.

The BBC's investigation analysed DEPHER CIC's most recent accounts in the two-year period up to April 2023 and found that cash donations had doubled to £1.2 million and that it held £643,000 in cash. However during this period the BBC alleges that Mr Anderson posted regularly on social media saying it would have to reduce its services without "more support".

He is also claimed to have said on an online fundraising page in January 2023 that their donations had plummeted by 80 per cent. Mr Anderson told the BBC that the drop was "because of trolls" and that his appeals were based on "forecasts".

However he conceded that particular GoFundMe was "misleading" and "a mistake." He pledged to return some of the donated money connected to specific misleading posts or safeguarding issues raised by the BBC