The former chief constable of Durham has said it is clear that Dominic Cummings broke the lockdown rules with his trip from London to the north-east.
Mike Barton’s intervention comes as Downing Street faced accusations of a cover-up over the trip by the prime minister’s top aide to Durham at the height of the national lockdown, with reports that No 10 knew he had made the 264-mile journey after developing coronavirus symptoms.
Opposition parties have called for Boris Johnson to sack his chief adviser over the apparent lockdown breach, which was revealed in an investigation by the Guardian and the Mirror.
Durham constabulary said it had spoken to Cummings’s family to remind them of the lockdown rules after receiving reports on 31 March that he was in Durham days after becoming ill.
Barton, who stood down as chief constable of Durham last year, said it was clear the prime minister’s top aide had broken the lockdown rules.
He told the Guardian: “It’s obvious to anyone this breaks the rules. So it should be especially clear to the people who created them.”
Durham police tried to avoid punishing people for lockdown breaches. It has been one of the forces to issue fewest fines, at about 137 between 27 March and 11 May, compared with North Yorkshire police’s 843.
Barton said: “It sounds like Durham police have taken the sensible line of providing advice. One does not need to prosecute in every case.”
The acting Durham police, crime and victims’ commissioner, Stephen White, said Cummings’s trip to Durham was unwise. “To beat this crisis we need to be selfless, as millions have been,” he said. “The response by the people of County Durham and Darlington has been exemplary, which makes this most frustrating and concerning.”
Downing Street and Cummings have repeatedly refused to answer questions from the Guardian over a number of weeks about his movements, but Cummings broke his silence on Saturday when he addressed reporters outside his London home. He said he had “behaved reasonably and legally” in making the trip.
Opposition MPs have accused No 10 of a cover-up and called for the prime minister’s top aide to resign.
When a reporter suggested to Cummings outside his London home that the trip to Durham did not look good, he replied: “Who cares about good looks?
“It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think. I behaved reasonably and legally.”
Downing Street used similar language in a statement on Saturday.
A spokesperson said: “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. His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed.
“At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter. His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”
Durham police said on Friday that officers had “explained to the family the [lockdown] guidelines”. On Saturday the force said it was standing by its statement and had nothing further to add.
The BBC reported that an anonymous source close to Cummings had claimed that a “small number of people in No 10 knew that Cummings had gone to Durham”.
Blackford said: “What I find interesting … is that members of Downing Street knew about this, so first and foremost Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer over what now appears to be a cover-up.”
Responding to No 10’s statement, a spokesperson for the Labour party said: “The lockdown rules were very clear. If you or anyone in your household was suspected of having Covid-19 you must immediately self-isolate and not leave the house. However, the prime minister’s chief adviser appears to believe that it is one rule for him and another for the British people.
“This will cause understandable anger for the millions of people who have sacrificed so much during this crisis.
“No 10’s statement also raises more questions than it answers. We are still unclear who knew about this decision and when, whether this was sanctioned by the prime minister and whether No 10 is now questioning the validity of the statement from Durham police.
“At this afternoon’s press conference, we will be expecting answers to these questions.”
The Guardian first approached Downing Street for a comment in April after being told by a neighbour of Cummings’s parents that they had seen him at the Durham property on 5 April.
No 10 refused to discuss the issue at the time. A spokesman said: “It’ll be a no comment on that one. We wouldn’t get into location of individual members of staff.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Blackford said: “The prime minister must explain exactly when he knew about the breaking of the rules, whether he sanctioned it, why Cummings wasn’t sacked immediately and why it appears that he tried to cover it up, not telling the public until the newspaper[s] broke the story eight weeks later last night.”
Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, the union that represents senior civil servants, said Johnson had a duty to explain Cummings’s behaviour.
He told Today: “I think the prime minister needs to understand how heartbreaking this lockdown has been for so many families and the sacrifices that have been made up and down the country.
“I think in these circumstances, if it looks like there is one rule for those at the centre of government and one rule for the rest of the country, then really the prime minister has a responsibility, as well as a constitutional responsibility, to explain his actions. He has known about this for six weeks.”
Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats have also called for Cummings to resign or be sacked. One Tory MP said: “I won’t be lifting a finger to defend him.”
They suggested Cummings would find few defenders in the parliamentary Conservative party. “He isn’t popular with most Tory MPs. The radio silence on the Tory MP WhatsApp group since the story broke is pretty telling. The issue is he’s increasingly becoming the story. The cardinal sin of any Spad [special adviser].”
The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, accused opponents of Cummings of trying politicise his behaviour. He tweeted: “It’s reasonable and fair to ask for an explanation on this. And it has been provided: two parents with coronavirus were anxiously taking care of their young child. Those now seeking to politicise it should take a long hard look in the mirror.”
His cabinet colleague Michael Gove tweeted: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.”
Prof Susan Michie, of University College London, who is a member of Sage, the scientific group that has guided the government’s response to the coronavirus, suggested Cummings’s trip would undermine trust in the official advice on the outbreak.
“Here’s a very high-profile person and it’s very unfortunate, the timing of this because, this is going to be the busiest weekend Dorset has seen this year,” he said.
Source: The Guardian
Sometimes you just have to ask yourself: WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THAT ? – #watcot