50 Northern Ireland police trainees in exam cheating scandal
Recruits who shared questions 'would have been fired but for huge number involved'
More than 50 trainee police officers are at the centre of a major exam cheating scandal that has rocked the PSNI.
Two squads of student officers at the PSNI'S training centre in Garnerville have been caught up in the allegations.
But there is serious concern that many more recruits could be embroiled in the scandal.
It is understood examination questions were shared among students ahead of assessment.
The PSNI confirmed an investigation had been launched into the allegations and that, as a result, disruption within the training college was possible.
It is believed that 18 student officers who had completed their 22-week initial training and were due to graduate last Friday were ordered back, or "back-squadded", to week three of training.
The group, known as Red Squad, was not allowed to leave the training college until 11.30pm on Thursday, until those suspected of cheating were spoken to. Just 20 members of the squad were allowed to graduate the following day.
The Belfast Telegraph has also learned that all but two members of another squad - Yellow Squad, who were due to graduate next month - were ordered back to week one of training after suspicions were raised that they too had cheated.
It is understood that Yellow Squad had attained the highest marks in the college's history.
A source claimed that those suspected were told by police bosses the only reason they had not been kicked out was because there were too many of them.
The scandal, which is a huge embarrassment to the PSNI, was uncovered following a complaint from a whistleblower.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd confirmed that an investigation had been launched that "centres around the impropriety of student officers inappropriately sharing examination information between each other".
He added that 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," Mr Todd explained.
"This investigation is at an early stage and it would be premature to consider what all the outcomes might be."
A source close to the process claimed that information about forthcoming exams had been passed amongst student officers "for years".
"An easy way to prevent it would be to change the exam questions," they added. "This is not something new. It just so happens that someone was caught red-handed.
"They were told the only reason they didn't lose their job was because it was such a high number involved."
The PSNI has been desperately trying to replenish officer numbers through recruitment campaigns. However, fiscal restraint over the past few years has meant recruitment has had to be on a reduced scale.
Last week, Chief Constable George Hamilton told the Policing Board that the service needed at least 6,963 officers, but currently had only 6,881.
Policing Board member Nelson McCausland said it was a matter of concern that such a huge number of recruits were involved in the cheating claims.