Alleged cheating ‘may disrupt police recruitment’

Police recruits pictured at a passing-out ceremony in 2002.
Police recruits pictured at a passing-out ceremony in 2002.

The whole police recruitment process may be disrupted by the emergence of alleged cheating by some trainees, according to a source at the PSNI’s training college.

The source – whose identity is being withheld by the News Letter – has given a detailed account of how they believe student officers conspired to try and find out all the questions being asked in their final exams.

Police have confirmed an investigation is underway into alleged misconduct by students at Garnerville Road College, north-east Belfast.

The source described the alleged scheme by rogue students as follows.

There is a new intake of roughly 50 student officers about every five weeks.

Their final exam involves about 60-or-so questions, chosen out of a bank of roughly 200 to 300 which are available to examiners.

It is alleged that students “co-ordinated” with each other on a large scale to memorise the questions on the paper, and that this information was then passed onto the next batch of students who were due to sit the exam, who would then do the same.

By doing this, students could soon build up a bank of many of the examiners’ questions.

The source suggested that those behind the scheme may be doing it for money, and said: “It puts into question the whole validity of the process.”

Asked if the college may have to scrap its existing bank of exam questions, they said: “That may well be a by-product of all this.”

They added that the issue came to light when a couple of students “took exception to it and reported it”.

Once this was uncovered, the details were then reported all the way to the top of the PSNI chain-of-command, reaching the Chief Constable himself.

The source added that after the allegations surfaced on Friday, 16 students were told not to turn up to their graduation ceremony which was due to be held that day (out of a total of about 35 who were due to qualify at the same time).

It is not clear if they are suspected of any involvement, or if they were from a group who were taking an exam which may have been compromised.

The source is concerned that some of those involved in the alleged cheating scheme will simply be “re-coursed” – that is, put through the training programme again, at a cost of about £20,000 each.

“If these people are the future of our police service, it’s worrying,” the source said.

“Because I would have thought honesty and integrity were qualities we’d be looking for.”

The PSNI had initially said on Friday, in response to the News Letter’s enquiries: “A discipline investigation is underway into potential misconduct within a squad of student officers at the Police Training College at Garnerville, Belfast...

“An investigation is at a very early stage. A number of student officers have had their training period extended pending the outcome of this investigation.”

This week, after the News Letter put further details of the scheme to them, the police issued a statement in the name of Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd.

It said: “The investigation centres around the impropriety of student officers inappropriately sharing examination information between each other.

“The full extent of this impropriety and the numbers of student officers involved forms part of this current investigation. Given the scale and thoroughness of the investigation being conducted and making provisions to ensure the robustness of the examination process, some disruption within the college is possible, however we will be working to ensure this is kept to a minimum.

“This investigation is at an early stage and it would be premature to consider what all the outcomes might be.”