Dominic Cummings today refused to apologise for driving 260 miles to Durham during the coronavirus lockdown as he claimed he had always behaved ‘reasonably and legally’ amid growing calls for the PM’s top aide to be sacked.
Mr Cummings said his decision to travel to the city to stay in a cottage on his parents’ land was the result of a ‘very complicated, tricky situation’ as he admitted he had not sought Boris Johnson’s permission to make the journey at the end of March.
The Vote Leave maverick has faced accusations of ‘double standards’, with the nation having been told to stay at home, but he told an unprecedented press conference in the Number 10 Rose Garden: ‘I don’t regret what I did… I think what I did was reasonable in the circumstances.’
Asked directly if he had offered to quit or had even considered it, he added: ‘No I have not offered to resign, no I have not considered it.’
Mr Cummings conceded that ‘reasonable people may well disagree’ with his his chosen course of action but he was resolute in his belief that he had acted in an appropriate manner and had not broken the rules.
He insisted ‘I don’t think there is one rule for me and one rule for other people’ and blamed public anger at media reports ‘that have not been true’.
The usually scruffy adviser was wearing an open collared shirt as he confirmed that he had travelled to the town of Barnard Castle on April 12 after the end of his period in self-isolation with coronavirus.
But he insisted that he and his family had not walked around the town 30 miles from Durham and had only ventured 15 metres from the car to the river bank. He said the purpose of the journey was to see if he was fit enough to make the drive back to London.
He also said that he and his family had walked around a woods during their stay in Durham but that they were within his parents’ private property and that they had not come into contact with anyone else.
He said: ‘Yesterday I gave a full account to the Prime Minister of my actions between March 27 and April 14, what I thought and did.
‘He has asked me to repeat that account directly to you. I know that millions of people in this country have been suffering, thousands have died, many are angry about what they have seen in the media about my actions.
‘I want to clear up the confusions and misunderstandings that I can. In retrospect I should have made this statement earlier.’
Mr Cummings said he had decided to leave London after he was subject to ‘threats of violence’ and that he did not want to leave his family alone at home while he went to work in Number 10.
The Government’s rule book for special advisers expressly states that aides ‘must not take public part in political controversy, through any form of statement’ but Mr Cummings seemingly felt it was necessary to try to set the record straight.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said it was ‘absolutely outrageous’ for Mr Cummings to be given ‘preferential treatment’ as she jibed ‘anybody would think he’s the unelected PM’.
It is likely to be the most significant political event in the famous Rose Garden since David Cameron and Nick Clegg announced the formation of the Coalition government there in May 2010.
Dominic Cummings today insisted he does not regret driving 260 miles to Durham to self-isolate with his family during the coronavirus lockdown
Boris Johnson is facing a mounting backlash over his defence of Mr Cummings. The under fire PM was seen jogging with his dog Dilyn near Lambeth Palace in central London this morning
Earlier today Durham’s Police and Crime Commissioner urged the local chief constable to launch a formal investigation into Mr Cummings’ lockdown visit to the city.
Acting PCC Steve White has written to Jo Farrell to ask her to probe the facts around Mr Cummings’ trip and to determine wether there was ‘any potential breach of the law or regulations in this matter’.
Mr White said there was a ‘plethora of additional information circulating in the public domain which deserves appropriate examination’. Durham Constabulary later said it had ‘received further information and complaints from members of the public and we are reviewing and examining that information’.
It came after one of the Government’s scientific experts said the ‘debacle’ over the lockdown journey had ‘fatally undermined’ the nation’s fight against coronavirus.
Professor Stephen Reicher, who is a member of the Government’s advisory group on behavioural science which feeds into SAGE, said the result of ‘undermining adherence to the rules’ will be that ‘more people are going to die’. Despairing police chiefs have warned the row means enforcing lockdown is now ‘dead in the water’.
Mr Johnson is facing an increasingly furious backlash from ministers, Tory MPs and even bishops after he yesterday attempted to mount an extraordinary defence of Mr Cummings.
Mr Johnson has effectively staked his political reputation on trying to protect Mr Cummings but the calls for the adviser to be sacked continue to grow. One cabinet minister claimed the PM had ‘sacrificed his own credibility’ to ‘save’ Mr Cummings.
At a dramatic press conference in Downing Street last night, the Prime Minister claimed his chief aide had acted ‘responsibly, legally and with integrity’ while making a controversial 260-mile trip from London to Durham during lockdown.
Mr Johnson insisted Mr Cummings had ‘followed the instincts of every father’ by driving to his parents’ farm after his wife developed symptoms of coronavirus.
But he refused to deny that while in the North East, Mr Cummings had also driven 30 miles to go for a walk in the countryside in an apparent second lockdown breach. He also failed to say whether he had given permission for the trip.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson this morning tried to assuage Tory and public anger as he insisted ‘at every stage Dominic Cummings followed and his family followed the guidance’.
Mr Johnson this afternoon tried to get the coronavirus response back on track as he chaired a meeting of the Cabinet at which ministers discussed lockdown restrictions which could be eased in the coming weeks.
Mr Cummings had ignored questions as he left his London home this morning. The car in which he was travelling then arrived at the back entrance of Number 10 having seemingly been hit by an egg at some point on the journey.
Mr Cummings (pictured today in London) has sparked a political firestorm after travelling 260 miles from London to Durham (above) to see his parents during lockdown
The car in which Mr Cummings travelled to Downing Street today arrived at a back entrance having seemingly been struck by an egg during the journey
The PM’s top aide, pictured arriving at No10 this morning, will make a public statement this afternoon to respond directly to criticism of his conduct
The unanswered questions in the Dominic Cummings row
1. How many ministers, including the PM, knew Mr Cummings had travelled to Durham and was self-isolating there?
2. Did Mr Cummings ask for advice or permission from No 10 before he travelled?
3. Why did Mr Cummings insist neither he nor his family had been spoken to by Durham Police, when his father had contacted the force himself?
4. Can Mr Cummings explain where he was on April 12, when he was allegedly spotted at Barnard Castle?
5. Can Mr Cummings provide details of his whereabouts on April 19, when he was allegedly seen in Houghall Woods?
6. What reason can Mr Cummings provide for allegedly travelling to Durham for a second time after his return to London, given he and his wife had recovered from their symptoms?
7. Why didn’t another family member near Mr Cummings’s London home care for their child when his wife displayed virus symptoms?
8. How many times did Mr Cummings travel between London and the North East during lockdown?
Tory MPs who believe Dominic Cummings should be sacked
An estimated 20 Tory MPs have now suggested they believe Dominic Cummings should be sacked.
Steve Baker, Peter Bone, Damian Collins, Sir Roger Gale, Robert Goodwill, James Gray, Simon Hoare, Peter Aldous, Andrew Jones, Tim Loughton, Paul Maynard, Jason McCartney, Caroline Nokes, Bob Stewart, Julian Sturdy, Sir Robert Syms, Craig Whittaker, Martin Vickers, David Warburton and George Freeman.
The row over Mr Cummings’s trip to Durham came as:
- Weston General Hospital in Weston-super-Mare announced it could not take any more admissions because of ‘a high number’ of coronavirus cases.
- Sun-worshippers descended on parks and beaches amid an expected 79F heatwave as they declared, ‘If Dominic Cummings can break the rules, we can too’.
- Bishops hit out at the Prime Minister and said the Church of England may now refuse to work with the government after his ‘risible’ defence of Mr Cummings which ‘broke trust of nation’.
- Nicola Sturgeon blasted Mr Johnson and accused him of choosing ‘political interest ahead of the public interest’ by refusing to sack his aide.
- Mr Williamson said schools face a ‘long journey’ before they will be able to open as normal ahead of a phased reopening on June 1.
Mr White, the acting Durham Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner, said in a statement issued this morning: ‘I am confident that thus far, Durham police has responded proportionately and appropriately to the issues raised concerning Mr Cummings and his visit to the County at the end of March.
‘It is clear however that there is a plethora of additional information circulating in the public domain which deserves appropriate examination.
‘I have today written to the Chief Constable, asking her to establish the facts concerning any potential breach of the law or regulations in this matter at any juncture.
‘It is vital that the Force can show it has the interests of the people of County Durham and Darlington at its heart, so that the model of policing by consent, independent of government but answerable to the law, is maintained.
‘It will be for the Chief Constable to determine the operational response to this request and I am confident that with the resources at its disposal, the Force can show proportionality and fairness in what has become a major issue of public interest and trust.’
A spokesman for Durham Constabulary said: ‘We can confirm that, over the last few days, Durham Constabulary has received further information and complaints from members of the public and we are reviewing and examining that information.’
Earlier, Prof Reicher had warned that Mr Cummings’ trip could harm efforts to fight coronavirus.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme today: ‘If you look at the research it shows the reason why people observed lockdown was not for themselves, it wasn’t because they were personally at risk, they did it for the community, they did it because of a sense of “we’re all in this together”.
‘If you give the impression there’s one rule for them and one rule for us you fatally undermine that sense of “we’re all in this together” and you undermine adherence to the forms of behaviour which have got us through this crisis.’
He added: ‘The real issue here is that because of these actions, because of undermining trust in the Government, because of undermining adherence to the rules that we all need to follow, people are going to die. More people are going to die.’
Mr Williamson said this morning that it was his ‘understanding’ from Mr Johnson that Mr Cummings did not break the law in making the trip to Durham during lockdown.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘(The Prime Minister) has been absolutely categorically assured that both Dominic Cummings and his family both followed the guidance and also followed the rules…
‘The guidance is incredibly extensive and at the heart of that guidance is always the issue of safeguarding children and making sure that children are always absolutely protected.
‘My understanding is from what the Prime Minister said yesterday… is that at every stage Dominic Cummings followed and his family followed the guidance and at no stage did Dominic Cummings or his family break the law.’
Mr Williamson said Mr Cummings should not resign ‘because he has made it clear that he’s broken no rules and he’s broken no laws’.
But there is growing fury among Tory MPs who believe the aide did break the rules, with 20 now having suggested he should be sacked.
Tim Loughton, the former children’s minister, became the latest to break cover as he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I was hoping that we were going to get some answers either from Dominic Cummings or then from the Prime Minister when he took on that press conference yesterday afternoon.
‘But I fear I didn’t get that and what is more worrying is my constituents didn’t get that and so I got swamped with even more emails from people who don’t have a political axe to grind, who say “look, hold on, this sends out a very bad message, it looks as though it is one rule for them and one for us, why should we now abide by Government guidance?”
‘I think that is deeply worrying. The only show in town at the moment is how the Government continues to deal with coronavirus and anything that deflects from that or distracts the Prime Minister from the work he needs to do from that is damaging and needs to be dealt with.’
Timeline of Cummings’ lockdown row
March 23: As the coronavirus crisis escalates, the UK is placed into lockdown with strict limitations on travel.
The Government guidelines state: ‘You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.’
Those in a household with symptoms must ‘stay at home and not leave the house’ for up to 14 days.
March 27: Both Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock test positive for coronavirus, while chief medical officer Chris Whitty says he has symptoms of the disease and is self-isolating.
March 30: Downing Street confirms Mr Cummings is suffering from coronavirus symptoms and is self-isolating.
March 31: Durham police are ‘made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city’.
The force said officers ‘made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.
‘In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the arrangements around self-isolation guidelines and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.’
April 5: An unnamed neighbour tells the Mirror and the Guardian Mr Cummings was seen in his parents’ garden.
‘I got the shock of my life as I looked over to the gates and saw him,’ they said.
March 30 – April 6: The period Mr Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield describes the family’s battle with coronavirus in the April 25 issue of the Spectator.
She makes no mention of the trip to Durham and describes the challenges of caring for their son while suffering the symptoms of Covid-19.
She says their small son nursed Mr Cummings with Ribena.
April 12: Robert Lees, a retired chemistry teacher, claims to have seen Mr Cummings 30 miles away from his parents home in Barnard Castle.
April 14: Mr Cummings returns to work for the first time since news he was suffering from Coronavirus emerged.
Questions are raised about his adherence to social distancing advice as he is photographed walking down Downing Street with fellow aide Cleo Watson.
April 19: A passer-by claims to have spotted Mr Cummings and his family admiring bluebells with his wife, back in Durham.
May 22: News breaks in the Mirror and the Guardian of Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham.
May 23: Downing Street stands by the PM’s chief aide, saying in a statement: ‘Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.’
That evening, a joint Sunday Mirror and Observer investigation reveals the two new eyewitness claims.
There is now anger over Mr Cummings’ actions and Mr Johnson’s handling of the fallout from the top to the bottom of the Conservative Party.
One cabinet minister told The Times: ‘He [Mr Johnson] has sacrificed his own credibility to save Dominic Cummings. He is burning away his personal brand, his trust, to save Dom. Dom needs to go.’
One ministerial source said the affair risked torpedoing public trust in the government at a time of national crisis, saying: ‘You can lose popularity, you cannot lose trust.’
Another warned the PM was ‘bleeding credibility’ to protect an aide who had delivered both the Brexit referendum result and his stunning election win last year.
One senior minister branded Mr Cummings an ‘arrogant idiot’, adding: ‘The fact that he is still there just shows how dysfunctional No 10 is. I am being bombarded with emails from constituents who are angry that while they have been making these incredible sacrifices and not seeing family, he’s just done whatever he wants. It is breathtaking that the PM is defending him.’
A senior Tory MP told The Guardian: ‘The PM is losing his instinct, he might be losing the plot and we could lose the country over this virus.’
One senior Tory source told The Telegraph: ‘Boris has put his credibility and the Government’s credibility on the line by sticking up for Dom. How can we tell people they must abide by the lockdown now?
‘The lockdown is effectively over because this makes it unenforceable.’
A normally loyal senior Tory MP told MailOnline the situation was ‘an utter s**t storm and the PM made it worse’.
Veteran Conservative Sir Roger Gale said the PM had failed to ‘put this to bed’ and ‘I fear that now the story is simply going to run and run’.
Simon Hoare, who had already called for Mr Cummings to go, later lamented Mr Johnson’s press conference, saying: ‘The PM’s performance posed more questions than it answered.
‘Any residual hope that this might die away in the next 24 hours is lost.’
New Tory MP David Warburton said: ‘As much as I despise any baying pitchfork-led trials by social media, I’m unconvinced by the PM’s defence of Cummings.’
Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard said: ‘It is a classic case of “do as I say, not as I do” – and it is not as if he was unfamiliar with guidance he himself helped draw up. It seems to me to be utterly indefensible and his position wholly untenable.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has demanded an inquiry, and warned that failure to sack Mr Cummings would ‘undermine confidence’ in the lockdown.
‘It is an insult to sacrifices made by the British people that Boris Johnson has chosen to take no action against Dominic Cummings,’ he said.
‘The public will be forgiven for thinking there is one rule for the Prime Minister’s closest adviser and another for the British people.’
Nicola Sturgeon, who forced out her chief scientific adviser for breaking lockdown rules, said: ‘I know it is tough to lose a trusted adviser at the height of crisis, but when it’s a choice of that or integrity of vital public health advice, the latter must come first.’
Meanwhile, police are concerned that the row, and Mr Johnson’s decision to stand by Mr Cummings, will make it almost impossible to enforce lockdown rules on social distancing.
Mike Barton, ex-chief constable of Durham Police, told The Daily Telegraph: ‘How on earth are the police supposed to enforce the rules now?
Protestors showed up outside Mr Cummings’ London home today carrying a sign with a quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm
Members of the media congregated outside the home of Mr Cummings’ parents in Durham today. A Sky News correspondent is pictured using disinfecting wipes on the keypad after apparently being asked to do so
‘If Dominic Cummings can break the rules, we can too!’ Fears lockdown will collapse with crowds hitting parks and beaches
Sun-worshippers descended on parks and beaches today amid an expected 79F heatwave as they declared, ‘If Dominic Cummings can break the rules, we can too’ after Boris Johnson’s Svengali got away with a 260-mile trip during lockdown.
The PM last night defended his senior aide over the journey from London to his parents’ home in Durham while he and his wife were self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms, prompting a furious reaction from Britons who have been making huge sacrifices to abide by the restrictions.
With parts of the country set to bask in temperatures hotter than Athens, Nice and Barcelona today, critics said that Mr Johnson’s decision to stand behind Mr Cummings risked sending out the dangerous signal that ‘lockdown is finished’ – potentially leading to a second wave of infections.
Russell Martin tweeted: ‘So are you telling us that the lockdown is now officially over and we can do whatever we like whenever we like? Because if Dominic Cummings can break the rules with impunity, the rest of us can too.’
Meanwhile, surfers in Woolacombe, Dorset, claimed they had every right to defy appeals to stay at home from locals at tourist spots, with Jen, 26, from Warwick, telling MailOnline: ‘If Dominic Cummings can travel from London to Durham during the height of lockdown, then really no one can say anything.’
Her friend, Liching, 26, from London, added: ‘I was a little apprehensive of what the locals would think and worried we might upset them but I’ve not left my house, except for daily walks, since lockdown started. I feel that if Dominic Cummings thought it was acceptable to drive that distance in lockdown, no one can get upset at us for driving now when the government have also said that it’s ok.’
Some of the Government’s scientific advisers also weighed into the debate, with Professor Stephen Reicher saying the PM had ‘trashed’ all the advice he’d been given, while a former police chief argued that his failure to condemn Cummings meant enforcing lockdown is now ‘dead in the water’.
This morning, crowds formed outside the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park, as beaches in Sussex, Essex and Dorset quickly filled up with visitors looking to enjoy the dry and sunny conditions forecast to last the whole of Bank Holiday Monday.
People in England are now allowed to travel for day trips but must stay at least six feet away from people who are not from their household, something that could be impossible in crowded areas.
‘What has happened has completely holed the legislation that was introduced to keep people safe below the waterline. It is dead in the water.’
Mr Barton told BBC Breakfast today that the PM’s chosen course had ‘made it exponentially tougher for all those people on the front line… enforcing the lockdown’.
‘We are in the middle of a national emergency and people who make the rules cannot break the rules, otherwise we are going to have chaos,’ he added.
Gloucestershire’s independent police and crime commissioner Martin Surl echoed a similar sentiment, telling the BBC: ‘I think it makes it much harder for the police going forward – this will be quoted back at them time and time again when they try to enforce the new rules.
‘But I think more importantly it makes something of a mockery of the police action going back when the message was very, very clear: stay at home.’
In a sign of just how difficult the situation facing Number 10 is, the PM has also been criticised by senior Church of England figures.
The Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, said: ‘The question now is: do we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a PM as mugs?
‘The moral question is not for Cummings – it is for PM and ministers/MPs who find this behaviour acceptable.’
Members of the public have also expressed their anger with some pointing out that they had missed deaths of loved ones because they had stuck to lockdown rules.
One Twitter user published a letter he had sent to his local MP in which he set out his ‘rage’ at Mr Cummings and detailed that he had been unable to visit his wife in hospital before she died of coronavirus as he adhered to restrictions.
Last night’s Number 10 press conference was originally due to be taken by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick but Mr Johnson stepped in amid a rising backlash.
The PM attempted to use the briefing to draw a line under the row as he insisted Mr Cummings had acted ‘with the overwhelming aim of stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives’.
Mr Johnson said his adviser had ‘followed the instincts of every father and every parent’ in travelling to a place where he could get help caring for his four-year-old son if he and his wife came down with the virus at the same time.
The PM denied that Mr Cummings was guilty of double standards, saying he had faced ‘very severe child care difficulties’ that could only be resolved by leaving his home in London and taking his family to Durham.
His wife Mary developed symptoms of the virus in late March and the couple feared they might be unable to care for their young son if Mr Cummings also came down with the illness, which he later did.
The family stayed on a property at the farm owned by Mr Cummings parents. In the event they did not need help with child care but did receive food deliveries from his sister while they were isolating for 14 days.
The decision to travel hundreds of miles while his wife was ill appeared to break government rules telling families they must stay at home for 14 days as soon as a member of the household develops symptoms.
But Mr Johnson said: ‘I have concluded that in travelling to find the right kind of childcare, at the moment when both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus – and when he had no alternative – I think he followed the instincts of every father and every parent. And I do not mark him down for that.’
On Saturday, the Government said Mr Cummings had acted ‘reasonably and legally’ after he drove 260 miles from London to Durham with his wife to self-isolate at the end of March amid the nationwide lockdown.
Retired chemistry teacher Robin Lees then claimed he saw Mr Cummings and his family on April 12 walking in the town of Barnard Castle, according to The Guardian and The Mirror.
The town is 30 miles from Durham, where the aide had been self-isolating. Mr Lees has reportedly made a complaint to the police.
Mr Cummings was photographed back in Downing Street on April 14 before a passerby claimed to have seen him in Houghall bluebell woods near Durham on April 19.
No 10 yesterday denied claims that Mr Cummings had made a second visit to Durham after returning to work in No 10.
Retired chemistry teacher Robin Lees claimed he saw Mr Cummings and his family on April 12 walking in the town of Barnard Castle, according to The Guardian and The Mirror
The footpath next to the river Tess in Barnard Castle where Robin Lees claims to have seen Mr Cummings and his family
Mr Cummings was photographed back in Downing Street on April 14. A passerby claimed to have seen him in Houghall bluebell woods near Durham on April 19
Mr Cummings’ decision to go to Durham has sparked a debate over adherence to lockdown rules. Beachgoers are pictured enjoying the sunshine in Southend on Sea today
Nicola Sturgeon accuses Boris Johnson of choosing ‘political interest ahead of public interest’
Nicola Sturgeon blasted Boris Johnson today for choosing ‘political interest ahead of the public interest’ by refusing to sack Dominic Cummings.
Scotland’s First Minister accused Mr Johnson of jeopardising public health messaging by backing his political adviser over alleged repeated trips to Durham during the lockdown.
The First Minister drew comparisons between Mr Cummings’ situation and that of Scotland’s former chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood, who breached the guidance with two visits to her second home.
Ms Sturgeon initially backed Dr Calderwood after the Scottish chief medical officer issued an apology, but was later forced to resign after a public outcry.
Ms Sturgeon told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that Mr Cummings should leave his post or risk undermining people’s trust that following the coronavirus guidance was a collective effort.
‘I’m very concerned and – I say this with a very heavy heart – I really do fear that Boris Johnson has decided to put political interest ahead of the public interest,’ she told the radio station.
‘The consequences of that are potentially very serious.’
Prof Reicher, a University of St Andrews academic, had tweeted last night to savage Mr Johnson’s performance at the daily Number 10 press conference.
‘I can say that in a few short minutes tonight, Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control Covid-19,’ he said.
‘Be open and honest, we said. Trashed. Respect the public, we said. Trashed. Ensure equity, so everyone is treated the same, we said. Trashed. Be consistent we said. Trashed. Make clear ‘we are all in it together’. Trashed.’
Shortly after the comment was shared, three other government advisers, two from the same committee, echoed Professor Reicher’s anger.
Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London said: ‘I don’t want science to be dragged down by association with dishonesty.
‘My fear is that science, which is key to getting through this pandemic, will be diminished in the eyes of the public.’
Robert West, also part of the advisory group, backed his colleagues as he shared Professor Michie’s post.
Professor West had earlier tweeted: ‘Conservative MPs and supporters must be feeling alarmed at what is going on in government. It is nothing short of a shambles with Trumpian levels of deceit.
‘The people of this country are being treated like idiots and I doubt that they will stand for it.’
He also implored the public to continue following the guidance on the lockdown, adding: ‘There is a natural human tendency to say, ‘If someone else can flout it, so can I’, but who will suffer? Dominic Cummings won’t suffer if we abandon it, the Prime Minister won’t suffer – it will be the people who we love who will suffer.
Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist on the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, added: ‘I spent this weekend refining our contact tracing analysis.
‘One of the things that’s always stood out is that for these targeted measures to work, we need public adherence to quarantine to be very high. But I fear it’s now going to be far more difficult to achieve this.’
How retired chemistry teacher holds Dominic Cummings’ fate in his hands after spotting him 30 MILES from Durham family home – as Gavin Williamson says PM’s aide insists he only made ONE trip during lockdown
By David Wilcock, Whitehall Correspondent for MailOnline
He is the most powerful unelected figure in the Government, but Dominic Cummings’ future as Boris Johnson’s indispensable Svengali could rest in the hands of a retired chemistry teacher.
Robin Lees and his walk in Barnard Castle on April 12 could prove pivotal in forcing the Prime Minister’s hand despite his astonishing defence of his friend, adviser and enforcer last night.
The Durham local alleges he saw someone who ‘looked like’ Mr Cummings at the Teesdale town 30 miles from Durham that day, and the ‘distinctive’ number plate he took down corresponds to Mr Cummings’ car.
Mr Cummings, 47, admits he took his wife Mary Wakefield and four-year-old son 260 miles north to his family’s farm from London at the end of March, when she was suffering from coronavirus-symptoms.
Reasons given have ranged from childcare fears to the death of his uncle, but Mr Johnson said last night he acted with ‘integrity’ and ‘as any father would’.
But he and Downing Street have remained silent over an alleged trip out during his northern isolation for a walk in the picturesque village on April 12 – his wife’s 45th birthday.
Mr Cummings has flatly denied any second trip north in April, despite the claim he was strolling the secluded bluebell glades at Houghall in Country Durham on April 19 – after he had been seen back at work in London.
Critics say the first, admitted trip north, during which the police spoke to Mr Cummings’ father, broke the lockdown, something Downing Street disputes.
The trip to Barnard Castle and the second trip north later in April – when none of the family were ill – would both appear to be clear breaches of the rules being followed by millions of Britons.
Were they to be irrefutably proven, even still friendly – or at least silent – Tories may have no option but to demand his head, for lying to the Prime Minister if nothing else.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was sent out to bat for the Government and Mr Cummings today.
His comments in interviews today left wriggle room for Mr Johnson to axe him if more revelations come to light that disprove his version of events.
Mr Williamson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was his ‘understanding’ that ‘Dominic Cummings made absolutely clear there was only one trip to Durham’.
‘I have not had a conversation with Dominic Cummings. The Prime Minister had an extensive discussion with Dominic Cummings yesterday – he did a press conference yesterday,’ he added.
‘He made it absolutely clear at the press conference that Dominic Cummings had given him the reassurance that no rules or no laws had been broken but I don’t have any more details than that.’
Pressed on whether he knew if Mr Cummings left the house during his isolation in Durham, Mr Williamson said: ‘Dominic Cummings has, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, has at every stage, Dominic Cummings operated within the rules.
‘He abided by the rules, he abided by the law and that’s what the Prime Minister said yesterday.’
The row threatens to cost the Government vital credibility at a time when it is trying to arrange an orderly easing of the lockdown.
Mr Cummings (pictured today in London) has flatly denied any second trip north in April, when none of his family were ill
Robin Lees says he saw someone who ‘looked like’ Mr Cummings here in Barnard Castle on April 12, and the ‘distinctive’ number plate he took down corresponds to Mr Cummings’ car
Mr Cummings has flatly denied any second trip north in April, despite the claim he was strolling the secluded bluebell glades at Houghall (pictured) in Country Durham on April 19
Mr Williamson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was his ‘understanding’ that ‘Dominic Cummings made absolutely clear there was only one trip to Durham’.
Never before has an unelected Government adviser been so powerful – and divisive.
The Prime Minister’s right-hand man and self-proclaimed architect of Brexit, Dominic Cummings, has already been depicted in a TV film by Benedict Cumberbatch and was the subject of a BBC documentary this year.
He has seemed to revel in his reputation as the ‘dark puppeteer’ – complete with his scruffy attire, abrupt tone and disdain for the Press. But to many, revelations that he may have breached lockdown rules are a controversial step too far. Here we analyses the allegations against him.
The day Britain was placed into lockdown. Boris Johnson told Britons they should only leave home for one of four reasons: To shop for essential items, to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where it was ‘absolutely necessary’ or to fulfil medical or care needs.
Those who had any symptoms of coronavirus were told to stay at home for at least seven days. Other members of that household were told they must self-isolate for 14 days.
The Government unveiled its message ‘Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives’ – which would have been drafted with the help of Mr Cummings.
March 27: Dominic Cummings is pictured running out of Downing Street on the day Mr Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock test positive for coronavirus
Mr Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock test positive for coronavirus, while chief medical officer Chris Whitty says he has symptoms of the disease and is self-isolating.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has told the BBC he believes Mr Cummings was last seen in Downing Street on the same day and speculates he may have travelled either on the 27th or 28th.
Such a move would have been hugely at odds with Government guidance as Mr Cummings could have looked after their young child in London while his wife recuperated.
This was also the day Mr Cummings was seen sprinting out of Downing Street.
Downing Street confirms Mr Cummings is suffering from coronavirus symptoms and is self-isolating.
Parents’ home: The home of Cummings’s parents in Durham, 260 miles away, which he visited during lockdown
Asked about Mr Cummings’s health, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman tells reporters: ‘He’s in touch with No10 but he is at home, he is self-isolating, he has some symptoms.’
The same day Durham police are ‘made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city’.
The force says officers ‘made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house’.
‘In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the arrangements around self-isolation guidelines and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.’
Mr Cummings has insisted the Durham trip was necessary for the well-being of his son. The boy would likely have contracted a mild version of the illness, if at all, by staying with his parents.
In contrast, Mr Cummings’ elderly parents were at a much higher risk of contracting a severe and potentially fatal form of Covid-19 – making his actions appear all the more reckless. Family friends have pointed out that his wife, Mary Wakefield, has a brother, Jack, who lives in London with his own young son. She also has a half-brother, Max, who lives in the capital.
It has also been suggested it may have been more sensible for a family member to travel from Durham south to help the Cummings.
At around 5.45pm, an unnamed neighbour spotted him in his parents’ garden with his son – with Abba’s Dancing Queen being played in the background.
The neighbour said: ‘I got the shock of my life. I was really annoyed. I thought ‘It’s OK for you to drive all the way up to Durham and escape from London’. It’s one rule for Dominic Cummings and one rule for the rest of us.’
In response to questions last week, No10 said Mr Cummings travelled to Durham as his sister and nieces had volunteered to look after his four-year-old son.
At the weekend deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said travelling during lockdown was permissible if ‘there was an extreme risk to life’ with a ‘safeguarding clause’ to prevent vulnerable people being stuck at home with no support.
She added that a small child could be considered vulnerable.
But rather than Mr Cummings’ son staying with other family members, he was in fact with his parents in a farmhouse adjoining the main property. Food was left by Mr Cummings’ sister at the door.
The trip would appear to fly in the face of strict lockdown rules as both parents were showing symptoms and could have taken advantage of help elsewhere in London.
March 30 to April 6:
The period for which Mr Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield describes the family’s battle with coronavirus, in the April 25 issue of the Spectator.
She makes no mention of the trip to Durham and describes the challenges of caring for their son while suffering the symptoms of Covid-19, as well as the apparent severity of her husband’s illness.
‘Day in, day out for ten days he lay doggo with a high fever and spasms that made the muscles lump and twitch in his legs. He could breathe, but only in a limited, shallow way,’ she wrote.
‘After a week, we reached peak corona uncertainty. Day six is a turning point, I was told: that’s when you either get better or head for ICU.
‘But was Dom fighting off the bug or was he heading for a ventilator? Who knew? I sat on his bed staring at his chest, trying to count his breaths per minute.
‘The little oxygen reader we’d bought on Amazon indicated that he should be in hospital, but his lips weren’t blue and he could talk in full sentences, such as: ‘Please stop staring at my chest, sweetheart.’
Dominic Cummings continued absence from Downing Street is noticed. Downing Street said at the time that he was working but not from Number 10 and insisted Number 10 is ‘fully operational’.
Number 10 is again contacted for comment regarding Mr Cummings’ trip by the Guardian. Instead of defending the journey, officials decline to comment.
On April 12, his wife’s birthday, Mr Cummings and his family were allegedly spotted 30 miles from Durham in the town of Barnard Castle (pictured above, today). Retired chemistry teacher Mr Lees, 70, said he was ‘gobsmacked’.
Although Mr Cummings could have theoretically completed a 14-day isolation period to recover from symptoms, the Government guidance were still clear: Stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.
Mr Lees told Sky: ‘They looked as if they’d been for a walk by the river. It didn’t seem right because I assumed he would be in London. You don’t take the virus from one part of the country to another.’
Sky News yesterday confirmed the car number plate as belonging to Mr Cummings.
Mr Cummings returns to work for the first time since news he was suffering from coronavirus emerged.
Questions are raised about his adherence to social distancing advice as he is photographed walking in Downing Street with fellow aide Cleo Watson.
A witness claimed to have seen Mr Cummings at Houghall Woods, a beauty spot near his parents’ home in Durham, on April 19.
He was overheard remarking that the bluebells are ‘lovely.’ The witness said: ‘We were shocked and surprised to see him because the last time we did was earlier in the week in Downing Street.
‘We thought ‘He’s not supposed to be here during lockdown’. We thought ‘What double standards, one rule for him as a senior adviser to the Prime Minister, another for the rest of us.’ When asked yesterday whether he had been to Durham a second time in April, Mr Cummings said: ‘No I did not’.
The claim is reported by the Observer and Sunday Mirror on May 24.
Like all good journalists, Mary Wakefield did not miss an opportunity to turn personal difficulty into tantalising copy. As commissioning editor of political magazine The Spectator, the baronet’s daughter described her and her husband’s battle with coronavirus for a late-April edition.
She said she initially contracted symptoms before Mr Cummings rushed home and ‘collapsed.’ She explained: ‘I felt breathless, sometimes achy, but Dom couldn’t get out of bed. Day in, day out for ten days he lay doggo with a high fever and spasms that made the muscles lump and twitch in his legs. He could breathe, but only in a limited, shallow way.’
Then, in a conclusion which contradicts the sightings in Durham, she said the family ’emerged from quarantine into the almost comical uncertainty of London lockdown.’
Mr Cummings also gave his own short account of their time together in isolation, branding it ‘sticky’ – but in reference to their home being ‘covered in a layer of spilt Ribena, honey, peanut butter and playschool glue’.
Rumours begin to circulate on social media that Mr Cummings had again been seen in the Durham area. A police source yesterday told the Telegraph officers contacted Mr Cummings’ father around this time but were assured the sightings were not true.
The Government lifts the restriction on how far people can drive to reach the countryside and take exercise, but visits and overnight stays to second homes remain prohibited.
News breaks in the Mirror and the Guardian of Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham.
While there is no comment from Downing Street, close friends of Mr Cummings say: ‘He isn’t remotely bothered by this story, it’s more fake news from the Guardian. There is zero chance of him resigning.’
Downing Street appears to be standing by the PM’s chief aide, saying in a statement: ‘Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.
‘At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported.’
Speaking to reporters outside his home, Mr Cummings says: ‘I behaved reasonably and legally.’
When a reporter suggests his actions did not look good, he replies: ‘Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.’
Later at the daily Downing Street briefing, Mr Shapps says Mr Cummings has the PM’s ‘full support’ and that Mr Johnson ‘knew that he was unwell and that he was in lockdown’.
Mr Shapps says it had always been permissible for families to travel to be closer to relatives as long as they ‘go to that location and stay in that location’.
Meanwhile, the deputy chief medical officer for England, Jenny Harries, says travelling during lockdown was permissible if ‘there was an extreme risk to life’, with a ‘safeguarding clause’ attached to all advice to prevent vulnerable people being stuck at home with no support.
In a new statement released later in the evening, Durham police say officers were made aware on March 31 that Mr Cummings was present at an address in the city.
The force adds that the following morning an officer spoke with Mr Cummings’ father at his own request, and he confirmed his son had travelled with his family to the North East and was ‘self-isolating in part of the property’.
It says the force ‘deemed that no further action was required. However, the officer did provide advice in relation to security issues’.
In another evening statement, a No 10 spokeswoman accuses the Mirror and Guardian of writing ‘inaccurate’ stories about Mr Cummings, including claims that he had returned to Durham after going back to work in Downing Street on April 14.
‘We will not waste our time answering a stream of false allegations about Mr Cummings from campaigning newspapers,’ the spokeswoman says.
Asked by a journalist outside his home whether he had returned to Durham in April, Mr Cummings says: ‘No, I did not.’
A host of Tory MPs call for him to resign or for Mr Johnson to sack him.
But the PM, who fronts the daily Downing Street briefing, firmly backs Mr Cummings, saying his aide acted in the best interests of his child, in a way ‘any parent would frankly understand’.
He insists Mr Cummings ‘acted responsibly, legally and with integrity’.
But the PM’s comments fail to quell anger among Tory MPs, opposition parties, scientists and even bishops – one of whom accuses Mr Johnson of treating the public ‘as mugs’.
Durham councillor Amanda Hopgood says she has written to Durham Constabulary’s Chief Constable Jo Farrell after being made aware of a number of sightings of Mr Cummings in the area in April and May.
Mr Cummings’ parents Morag and Robert defend him in an interview with the New Statesman, with his mother saying the family had been grieving after her brother – Lord Justice Laws – died on April 5 after contracting Covid-19 while ill in hospital, and his father saying he was ‘disgusted’ at the way the press had treated his son during the coverage.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson adds his support for Mr Cummings, saying he should not resign ‘because he has made it clear that he’s broken no rules and he’s broken no laws’.
Gloucestershire’s independent police and crime commissioner Martin Surl says Mr Cummings’ actions make a ‘mockery’ of police enforcement earlier in the lockdown ‘when the message was very, very clear: stay at home’.
Tory MP David Warburton says his own father died alone as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, and that the Cummings story gives an impression of ‘double standards’.
Beach-goers enjoy the sunshine as they sunbathe on the beach and play in the sea at a packed beach today in Southend, Essex
Friends Amy Louise Thomas, 20 and Elli Wilson, 20, enjoying the hot bank holiday weather on Formby beach in Merseyside this morning
At least 15 Conservative backbenchers have called for Mr Cummings to go, while several others have spoken out against his actions.
Conservative former minister Paul Maynard said he shared people’s ‘dismay’ at the PM’s response, and was one of many MPs who insisted Mr Cummings should quit or be sacked.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she fears Mr Johnson is ‘putting his political interest ahead of the public interest’ and adds that she hopes he will ‘reflect further’ on the matter.
Durham’s Police and Crime Commissioner today urges the local chief constable to launch a formal investigation into Dominic Cummings’ lockdown visit to the city Acting PCC Steve White writes to Jo Farrell to ask her to probe the facts around Mr Cummings’ trip and to determine wether there was ‘any potential breach of the law or regulations in this matter’.
Mr White says there was a ‘plethora of additional information circulating in the public domain which deserves appropriate examination’. If the chief constable agrees to look into the matter it raises the prospect of the police examining ANPR or phone data to determine the aide’s movements.