James Anderson: 'Hero plumber' faked stories to raise money - who is he and which celebrities donated to him?

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Depher, a firm run by handyman James Anderson, has been found to have faked stories of helping people

The firm run by a man dubbed “Britain’s kindest plumber” has been found to have faked stories of helping people as it raised millions in donations, including from actor Hugh Grant and his wife. According to an investigation by the BBC, Depher, a social enterprise, used vulnerable people’s photos without consent and founder James Anderson spent company cash on a house and a car. So who is Anderson and which celebrities had backed his ‘noble’ efforts which appear to have misled the entire country?

Based in Burnley, Depher - which stands for Disabled and Elderly, Plumbing and Heating Emergency Response - has posted hundreds of stories about acts of kindness it says it has carried out since 2019 amid the cost-of-living crisis. Their ‘good deeds’ did not go unnoticed, as Anderson was given much media attention as he appeared on ITV’s This Morning, Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, The One Show, Sky News, and the Russell Howard Show.

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The 57-year-old ‘hero plumber’ even received a Pride of Manchester award and letters of thanks from the late Queen and the King for providing free plumbing and heating services to the elderly, vulnerable, people with disabilities and anyone facing fuel poverty.

Depher, a firm run by handyman James Anderson, has been found to have faked stories of helping people as it raised millions in donations, including from celebrities such as Hugh GrantDepher, a firm run by handyman James Anderson, has been found to have faked stories of helping people as it raised millions in donations, including from celebrities such as Hugh Grant
Depher, a firm run by handyman James Anderson, has been found to have faked stories of helping people as it raised millions in donations, including from celebrities such as Hugh Grant | NW

Who is ‘hero plumber’ James Anderson?

Originally from Liverpool, Anderson set up Depher in 2017 after giving a free boiler to an elderly and bed-bound man who was the target of a £5,000 scam despite himself being £18,000 in debt.

He said he was driven by a promise to his baby son, William, who died aged 16 weeks in 2013. He said he would be “the man that he would have grown up to have been”. It was reported that he provided free or lower-cost plumbing to those in need throughout the winter since the firm’s launch.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said that “every time we go to a job, every time we show people humanity, there’s a little bit of William in there. The day we turned that machine off, I said ‘that’s it, I’m going to be a better man. I promised him and I really hope I’ve done him proud.”

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Anderson, a former homeless father, first went viral after a picture of his bill for £0 sent to a 91-year-old woman with acute leukaemia was posted online. The receipt for the boiler repair was accompanied by a note reading: “No charge for this lady under any circumstances. We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible.”

James Anderson of Depher speaks on the phone with someone struggling to pay for repair work. Photo: Kelvin StuttardJames Anderson of Depher speaks on the phone with someone struggling to pay for repair work. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard
James Anderson of Depher speaks on the phone with someone struggling to pay for repair work. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Anderson, who is married to housewife Barbara Anderson, also revealed that he considered ending his life due to constant bullying over his physical appearance.

In early 2023, he donated £13,000 to pay for a new bionic arm for a seven-year-old boy Alex Sparkes from Oswaldtwistle.

However, in December last year, the handyman was criticised for reposting a picture of a golly doll during the 2016 Brexit campaign, insisting he was unaware of the offensive racist connotations attached to the doll due to his childhood. He also said he had already apologised for the golly doll and other controversial posts to critics online, as well as to an anti-racist blogger who targeted him on the web.

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What is Depher accused of?

According to analysis by the BBC, Depher has been found recycling the same photos in misleading and false posts, including several using the same image of a dead woman. It also posted a story about a victim of domestic abuse, who was pictured with her young child and baby and was accused of theft without evidence.

The investigation also revealed that Depher funds were used to purchase a house and Anderson also admitted to buying a car with company cash. Additionally, the firm posted video and images of a vulnerable man in his 90s in fundraising posts more than 20 times, publicising information about his sexuality, despite the man pleading “God no” when asked he would agree to be filmed.

Former employees also raised safety concerns after one staff member was pictured smoking a cigarette next to a leaking boiler.

Which celebrities have donated to Depher?

In December 2023, Anderson revealed how Hollywood actor Grant and his wife Anna Elisabet Eberstein donated a staggering £20,000 in what the charity hailed as a ‘wonderful Christmas gift’. Depher wrote on X then: “This wonderful and humbling donation of £20,000 will give hope to thousands of people, families and children, especially with the #CostOfLivingCrisis.” Both Grant and his wife reportedly handed a total of £75,000 over the years.

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Among other donors include singer Lily Allen and Emmerdale actress Samantha Giles.

What has James Anderson said?

The BBC said Anderson deleted the main Depher CIC social media account with more than a hundred thousand followers during our investigation. Speaking to the BBC from his Burnley offices, he 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.” He said he had made mistakes because of a relentless campaign of “bullying, harassment and attacks” by online trolls.

In a separate interview with National World’s sister title Burnley Express, apologised to the victims and vowing the safeguarding issues “will never happen again.” However, he says he will remain at the helm of Depher.

He said: "I’m not going to stop. A lot of people hate us, but we're going to continue. There are still people who need us and can’t get support from anywhere else. If we decide to shut up shop, where will that put those people who can’t get help? I’m going to continue working at Depher, I’ll be one of the directors but I’m going to get other directors in."

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