'That is just not true': 'Hero plumber' firm tweeted false photo next to story of elderly woman 'about to kill herself'

James Anderson of DEPHER
James Anderson of DEPHER -Credit:James Maloney/Lancs Live

A company helping people struggling with the cost of living used misleading social media posts to raise tens of thousands of pounds, an investigation has uncovered.

DEPHER Community Interest Company (CIC), run by James Anderson from Burnley, posted old photos with new stories in captions - alongside links to online fundraisers. The BBC has exposed the posts in a new documentary, which also shows Mr Anderson apologising for doing 'wrong'.

Misleading posts were found with fundraising links attached to them. One showed a noose which was claimed to have been used by a woman threatening to kill herself was revealed to have actually been attached to a link which raised tens of thousands of pounds - forming part of the £2m raised by DEPHER in recent years, according to the BBC.

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In one example, a tweet from DEPHER on June 12, 2022, showed Mr Anderson, who received an award at our Pride of Manchester awards in 2022, posing with an 84-year-old woman, allegedly from Preston, whose face was covered with an emoji to protect her identity. The tweet claimed 'she had a noose ready to commit suicide'.

But the BBC found that the same image had been tweeted by DEPHER 18 months earlier, with Joyce's face shown. The post stated that DEPHER 'gave her a reason to smile when she needed that smile the most', and that the elderly woman had since died, adding: "Goodnight & God bless my sweet Angel."

Multiple posts were found with the same woman in the photo
Multiple posts were found with the same woman in the photo -Credit:BBC

Steph, a carer who helped her for two years, was seen reduced to tears after the BBC showed her the social media posts. “None of that’s true with Joyce,” said Steph. “All a complete lie. I think it’s all a farce to try and gain more money out of people.”

The BBC also spoke to Joyce's daughter, Andrea Fawcett, who said she had no idea her mother’s image had been shared. She choked up as she read the line regarding the noose on camera, and insisted her mum was not from Preston.

“That is just not true,” she said. “A lie - it’s a complete lie.” Ms Fawcett added: "How do you sleep at night? How can you exploit vulnerable people?" Previous video interviews, showing Mr Anderson telling the same story, were also shown.

It was one of a number of examples of images being used repeatedly in different social media posts by DEPHER over a number of years, sometimes with faces obscured by emojis. The BBC also found that DEPHER funds were used to purchase a house, while Mr Anderson admitted to buying a car with the company's money.

In one example, the same photo of a young family was used in four separate social media posts, including one which claimed the mum ‘deliberately stole from the Depher fundraising shop… she may be in a dark place’. The mum in the photo, named Gemma, was shown telling Mr Anderson in a phone call: "You do not have consent for those photos to be circulated.

"My photo, of me and my kids, has been used over and over and over. So you’ve exploited me and my kids at our most vulnerable and repeatedly over social media.”

Gemma on the phone to Mr Anderson
Gemma on the phone to Mr Anderson -Credit:BBC

Gemma claimed that James took the photo when he helped the family, telling her it was for ‘transparency’ but that it would not be shared on social media. She also insisted she ‘would never do a thing like’ stealing from the Depher shop, although Mr Anderson later doubled down on the story while speaking to the BBC.

Describing her situation at the time James took the photo, she said: “Probably the most vulnerable I have ever been in my entire life.” When confronted by the BBC, Mr Anderson apologised and suggested DEPHER could pay back money raised on links attached to fake stories.

He claimed his actions followed ‘bullying, harassment and attacks’ by trolls online, but added: "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.”

Yesterday, LancsLive reported that DEPHER was being investigated by the Fundraising Regulator, and Mr Anderson claimed the BBC investigation was a 'witch hunt'. Investigations by two other bodies, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the CIC (Community Interest Company) Regulator have both been concluded, Mr Anderson says.

Mr Anderson told LancsLive that while 'mistakes were made', they were genuine and not in any way an attempt to personally benefit from or mislead donors. "I set this up purely to help people; not to have people jumping through hoops," he said.

He added: "The CIC Regulator asked me to change a few things, which we did, and they're happy with that... The Information Commissioner asked us to remove a few posts on social media, due to data protection, and we have done that. I have been working with the Fundraising Regulator and we have sent over what they asked for and they said they will work with us if anything needs changing.

James Anderson founded DEPHER
James Anderson founded DEPHER -Credit:https://www.lancs.live/news/cost-of-living/accrington-pensioner-no-heating-hot-25913974

"The BBC seem hell-bent on this witch hunt and making a mountain out of a molehill. In the last seven years we've paid £202,000 to HMRC and we have to pay £170,000 in wages. Yes, we have made some mistakes, but not because of corruption, because of naivety."

Regarding the property alleged to have been bought with charitable donations, Mr Anderson said: "[It's inhabitant] Glen is my wife's ex-step-father. He was divorced from her mum 20 years ago but he's still close to my wife. His son Clint works for us.

"The property was bought to provide a regular income and we explained to the CIC Regulator that we picked them as tenants because it was guaranteed rent and the property would be looked after. Glen has Stage 4 cancer and he's dying."

He added that the property is in DEPHER's name, and any profit made in rent is returned to the company. The full documentary is available to watch on BBC iPlayer here.