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Dominic Cummings might have broken lockdown law by driving to Barnard Castle, Durham Police conclude

Boris Johnson believes adviser ‘behaved legally and regards this issue as closed’, Downing Street says

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 28 May 2020 14:15 BST
Dominic Cummings says he left Durham self-isolation to drive to Barnard Castle to 'test his eyesight'

Dominic Cummings might have broken coronavirus laws by taking a trip to Barnard Castle with his family, police have said.

But Durham Constabulary said it would not take any further action against the prime minister’s chief adviser.

An investigation concluded that the journey on Easter Sunday would have warranted police intervention as a potential breach of the Health Protection Regulations, which enforce the lockdown.

However, police found that Mr Cummings did not break the law with his earlier 260-mile journey from London to his parents’ farm in County Durham.

“Durham Constabulary does not consider that by locating himself at his father’s premises, Mr Cummings committed an offence contrary to regulation 6 of the Health Protection Regulations 2020,” a statement added, confirming that police were only assessing breaches of the law rather than government guidance.

Officers said they had examined the circumstances around the trip to Barnard Castle, including witness evidence, Mr Cummings’ press conference and data from ANPR cameras. “We have concluded that there might have been a minor breach of the regulations that would have warranted police intervention,” a statement said.

“Durham Constabulary view this as minor because there was no apparent breach of social distancing. Had a Durham Constabulary police officer stopped Mr Cummings driving to or from Barnard Castle, the officer would have spoken to him, and, having established the facts, likely advised Mr Cummings to return to the address in Durham, providing advice on the dangers of travelling during the pandemic crisis.

“Had this advice been accepted by Mr Cummings, no enforcement action would have been taken.”

Police said there was “no intention to take retrospective action in respect of the Barnard Castle incident since this would amount to treating Mr Cummings differently from other members of the public”.

Boris Johnson on Dominic Cummings: 'I regret the confusion and the anger that people feel'

Investigators said they found insufficient evidence to support further media reports that the adviser was in Durham on 19 April, which he denies, and would be taking no further action.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister has said he believes Mr Cummings behaved reasonably and legally given all the circumstances, and he regards this issue as closed.”

The statement highlighted that police found Mr Cummings had not broken the law by travelling to Durham, but did not acknowledge the findings over Barnard Castle.

Steve White, Durham’s acting police and crime commissioner, said the force had acted “without fear or favour”.

He added: “I am grateful to the chief constable for the work conducted in extremely difficult circumstances and the comprehensive and proportionate consideration of the facts.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said Mr Cummings “broke the rules he helped to write”.

“The country cannot afford for this saga to carry on – only Boris Johnson can draw a line under it,” he added.

“Keir Starmer has said that if he was prime minister, he would have sacked Mr Cummings. Boris Johnson should follow that advice.

“If he does not act then he will send a clear message that there is one rule for his closest adviser and another for the British people.”

Critics have argued that Mr Cummings breached guidance – which is not legally enforceable – from the government and NHS telling families to isolate together in their primary residence if anyone develops symptoms.

At the time of the initial journey, Mr Cummings’ wife had symptoms of coronavirus and he fell ill days later.

The adviser said he travelled to County Durham to isolate near relatives who could provide food and childcare if needed.

He claimed that the trip to Barnard Castle on 12 April was made to test his eyesight, rather than for leisure or sightseeing purposes, before the family returned to London.

At a press conference, Mr Cummings said he sat by the river to recover from a brief bout of sickness and was seen with his wife and son in a nearby wood because they had stopped the car to allow the young child to relieve himself.

Mr Cummings also went to work in Westminster while his wife was ill and visited a hospital to pick up his son after developing Covid-19 symptoms.

Fines for breaching coronavirus laws are handed out on the spot by police, and Mr Cummings was not stopped during his journeys in County Durham.

A local officer spoke to his father on 1 April, who confirmed that Mr Cummings, his wife and son were self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms.

Durham Constabulary said the officer provided advice on security issues and “gave no specific advice on coronavirus to any members of the family”.

The force has previously fined at least two people who travelled to the county from London.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) by the BBC showed the pair journeyed from the capital to Peterlee about a week after Mr Cummings, on 8 April.

The two people travelled together but were from different households, which was against the rules at the time.

The FoI data only covered the first two and a half weeks after the regulations came into force on 27 March.

Police across England and Wales issued around 3,200 fines in that period, but the total has now risen to more than 14,000.


Durham Constabulary had handed out 137 fines in total by 11 May, provisional figures show.

Calculations by The Independent show the force was issuing them at an average rate when compared to other areas by population size.

Both the government and police have refused to review fines handed out under coronavirus laws in light of Mr Cummings’ trip.

The Health Protection Regulations make it illegal to leave home or be outside “without reasonable excuse”.

But the law lists several exceptions including “to access critical public services, including childcare or educational facilities”.

Human rights organisations had previously called for a wider review of fines, raising concerns that “a significant number of fixed penalty notices have been wrongly issued”.

A lawyer previously told The Independent that most people will have paid the fines because there is no route of appeal other than refusing to pay and risking prosecution.

While restrictions were relaxed in England on 13 May, the default fine was increased from £60 to £100.

The same changes were not made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, sparking further confusion over the extent of the law.

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