Arrested men linked to Life Wirral investigation conditionally bailed

All four men arrested on suspicion of child cruelty in connection to a Wirral school have all been conditionally bailed.

Last week, detectives investigating allegations of child cruelty at the Life Wirral school arrested four men. On 4 July, Merseyside Police said a 50-year-old man from Birkenhead was arrested on suspicion of child cruelty. He was taken into custody to be interviewed but has since been conditionally bailed.

On 3 July, Merseyside Police also said a 43-year-old man from Meols, a 21-year-old man from Wallasey and a 26-year-old man from Irby had also been arrested. They were also taken into custody to be interviewed and were later conditionally bailed.

Life Wirral, an independent SEND school, based in Victoria Road in Wallasey, made national headlines last month following an undercover investigation by BBC Panorama. The investigation, titled Cruelty in the Classroom saw an undercover reporter sent into the school posing as a work experience student.

The independent school was regulated by the Department for Education and Ofsted but it was also paid more than £2.2m by Wirral Council. Ofsted rated the school “good” and found no issues during an emergency inspection called after concerns were raised about the school.

Before the documentary aired, Wirral Council sent letters to parents and headteachers, as well as a response to the BBC as it immediately pulled children out of the school.

In one letter to a headteacher, Assistant Director for Education James Backhouse said a complex abuse investigation was started with Merseyside Police after the council was contacted by the BBC.

An independent Child Safeguarding Practice Review (CSPR) will also investigate back to when issues were first raised with recommendations on a local and national level.

In an initial statement in response to the BBC programme, LIFE Wirral hit out at the corporation, accusing it of acting in a “highly irresponsible manner” and “putting the interests of a television programme ahead of the interests of vulnerable children”.

The school accused the undercover reporter of “failing in her basic safeguarding duties to report significant concerns”, claiming her actions put more vulnerable children at risk for longer. The BBC has strongly rejected these claims.

Life Wirral has stood by these claims but has since added to its original statement to offer its apologies to any students and families affected by the behaviour of staff highlighted in the Panorama programme.

A spokesperson for the school said, “LIFE Wirral do not condone the behaviour of a small proportion of staff whose actions were aired on last night’s BBC Panorama programme. We are deeply concerned about our students and their families and would like to apologise to all those affected.”

The BBC said in response, “The BBC takes issues of safeguarding and protection of vulnerable individuals extremely seriously and has strict editorial guidelines covering undercover investigations, secret recording and investigations involving children.

“Our investigation was firmly in the public interest and the welfare of the children concerned was our primary consideration. Our undercover reporter gathered evidence over a period of time so we could be confident that what she witnessed demonstrated a clear pattern of behaviour, involving multiple members of staff, and in line with the concerns that had been raised with us.

“Prior to our investigation, the local authority and the school were already aware of safeguarding concerns having previously been made by others, and despite the local authority investigating, this had not resulted in meaningful change.

“In contrast, when we told the local authority about the findings of our investigation, the placements at the school were suspended and new places are being found elsewhere for the children.”

Image credit: Ed Barnes

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