Landlord repossesses gym linked to Life Wirral school

A landlord has repossessed a closed gym run by the operators of a Wirral school at the centre of a police investigation.

On 10 July, notices were put outside the Wirral Point business complex on Claughton Road in Birkenhead stating that the landlord of the building, Plainbox Ltd, had exercised their right to re-enter and take possession of three units Unit 2a, 4 and 5.

These units were occupied by businesses understood to be linked to Alistair Saverimutto including ASAV Fitness Ltd, Life Style (Wirral) Limited, WESPA, as well as Kiwi Coffee. Unit 5 was also the registered address for SHE (Sports Health and Education), a community interest company that operated the Life Wirral school.

In February 2023, Mr Saverimutto also applied for planning permission to change an office in Unit 4 into a sports health and education centre for SHE with two full-time staff and part-time tutors and coaches “providing specialist training in the hourly session”. It was approved in May 2023.

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.

A spokesperson for Plainbox Ltd said they had taken immediate action after rent arrears allowed them to legally repossess the property, adding, “We are a reputable property company and we would hate to be tarnished with the same brush.”

They said the documentary had had a negative impact on other businesses in the same building with a lot of people videoing it since the documentary aired. However, unlike the school building in New Brighton, Wirral Point has not been vandalised.

One person, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “There’s been non-stop attention on the property since the documentary. There was a fella who said he came from Wales and he just wanted to say ‘I’m absolutely disgusted and outraged.”

“All the children used to come from that school and do sports there. They’ve been closed since the story broke. We’ve had YouTubers coming around.

“All of a sudden this morning when I turned up at work I saw people changing locks.”

Life Wirral and ASAV Fitness have both been approached for comment.

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.

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.

A complex abuse investigation was also started by the local authority with Merseyside Police and detectives have since arrested five men in connection with allegations of child cruelty at the school. All have been conditionally bailed and enquiries into the matter are ongoing.

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: ASAV Fitness on Claughton Road, Birkenhead. Credit: GOOGLE

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