Fifth man arrested on suspicion of child cruelty at Wirral Life school after BBC Panorama documentary

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A 30-minute documentary titled Undercover School: Cruelty in the Classroom aired showed shocking footage of staff members’ behaviour towards pupils at Life Wirral, in Wallasey.

A fifth man has been arrested on suspicion of child cruelty at an independent Wirral school that featured in a BBC Panorama exposé.

Last month, a 30-minute documentary titled Undercover School: Cruelty in the Classroom aired and showed shocking footage of staff members’ behaviour towards pupils at Life Wirral, in Wallasey.

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Despite the school for children with special educational needs being graded as ‘Good’ by Ofsted at the time, staff members were heard calling the children derogatory names and placing them in headlocks. The BBC said it carried out an undercover investigation after whistle blowers told Panorama, ‘abuse was still happening’ despite Wirral Council being warned of problems.

Places at the school in Wallasey cost Wirral Council between £50,000 and £150,000 per pupil and undercover reporter, Sasha Hindle, spent almost seven weeks at the school. Under the guise of work experience, Hindle witnessed vulnerable children being treated cruelly by the adults charged with taking care of them. Hindle said she didn’t ‘see much teaching going’, adding: “Instead the children are regularly mocked.”

Ed Barnes

Five staff members were suspended after the documentary aired and the Department for Education confirmed all pupils had been removed from the school. A 43-year-old man from Meols, a 21-year-old man from Wallasey, a 26-year-old man from Irby and a 50-year old man from Birkenhead were arrested last week on suspicion of child cruelty and have since been interviewed and conditionally bailed.

Merseyside Police have confirmed that a fifth man was arrested on Tuesday (July 9). A 21-year-old man from Neston was arrested on suspicion of child cruelty. He was taken into custody to be interviewed and has now been conditionally bailed. The force added: “Enquiries into the matter are ongoing.”

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In statement after the documentary aired, Life Wirral 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.”

They did however say the BBC acted ‘in a highly irresponsible manner putting the interests of a television programme ahead of the interests of vulnerable children’ and said the undercover officer ‘failed in her basic safeguarding duties’.

The statement continued: “In correspondence from the BBC they stated they had uncovered ‘significant safeguarding issues’, if they were significant (as a responsible school we absolutely agree they were), why did they not report them and put a stop to it there and then? They chose not to because they had other priorities and the children’s welfare was not their primary concern.

“As a team of highly respected education specialists we see no justification whatsoever allowing such incidents to continue; the safeguarding of the children should have come first rather than a television show. It cannot be stressed enough, had these incidents been reported immediately the members of staff would have been instantly suspended; something the reporter knew too well.

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 “Indeed, shocking evidence has also revealed that not only did the investigator ignore clear advice to report safeguarding issues she went one step further and falsified official reports in order to claim that situations were handled well on the school’s safeguarding system which would deceive the safeguarding lead and ultimately allow the television programme to proceed.

 “Life School was a very successful Ofsted rated place of learning, shortlisted by the Times Educational Supplement as Inclusive School of the Year 2023 but regardless of how respected the school was it does not condone the behaviour revealed by the programme, and five members of staff have been suspended and we can now come to a quick conclusion based on the evidence we now have. 

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.

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“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.”

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