Dominic Cummings: Private prosecution has ‘reasonable prospect’ of convicting PM’s adviser of lockdown breaches, QC says

Law graduate crowdfunding case over Downing Street aide’s trip to Durham

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Sunday 28 June 2020 13:34 BST
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Dominic Cummings says he does not regret breaking lockdown by travelling to Durham

A young law graduate planning a private prosecution of Dominic Cummings over his notorious trip to County Durham has received legal advice that she has a “reasonable prospect” of securing conviction on two breaches of lockdown regulations.

The preliminary advice from barristers Benjamin Douglas-Jones QC and Nathaniel Rudolf states that the decisions of Boris Johnson’s top aide to leave his home in London and travel to a cottage in the grounds of his parents’ home and later to drive to beauty spot Barnard Castle each amounted to prima facie offences.

Mahsa Taliefar is now seeking to raise £300,000 to crowdfund a prosecution.

Ms Taliefar said she had strictly observed the lockdown restrictions introduced in March, going weeks without seeing her elderly mother.

She said she regarded Mr Cummings’ trip, at a time when he believed his wife had coronavirus and he was about to develop it, amounted to an “insult” to relatives and friends of the tens of thousands of Britons who have died from the illness.

Explaining her decision to seek a prosecution, she said: “I am trying to encourage the re-establishment of the concept of the rule of law – one law for all.

“What Cummings did demonstrated that at the moment in the UK if you are rich and have powerful friends the law doesn’t apply to you.”

She said that the private prosecution was at an early stage, but added that “as long as we have the resources, we will press ahead to the next stage”.

Durham Police mounted a three-day investigation into the 516-mile round trip before deciding to take no further action against Mr Cummings over alleged breaches of the regulations, which carry a penalty of a fine.

The statutory instrument putting the lockdown regulations into law was passed by health secretary Matt Hancock the day before Mr Cummings left London on 27 March. It states that “proceedings for an offence under these Regulations may be brought by the Crown Prosecution Service and any person designated by the Secretary of State”.

But the advice obtained by Ms Taliefar found that this would not be enough to block the “constitutional right” of a private individual also to bring a prosecution.

The barristers said that a conviction over Mr Cummings leaving his home and driving to Durham would depend on whether the court accepted his explanation that the journey was necessary to avoid harm to his four-year-old son as a “reasonable excuse” for breaching lockdown.

And they said that his account that he drove for half an hour to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight after recovering from Covid “would not in our view amount to a reasonable excuse in law”.

“We consider that DC’s conduct described above involved the commission of two prima facie offences contrary to Regulation 6,” said the advice. “There is a realistic prospect of conviction in respect of each of them.”

The argument for a prosecution in the public interest was bolstered by the “very significant” risk that increased deaths or infections may have resulted from the public following Mr Cummings’ lead in ignoring government advice.

The barristers said Mr Cummings breached no lockdown rules by driving to hospital while at Durham to pick up his wife and child or by undertaking the return trip to London when they were all feeling healthier.

(AFP/Getty

Evidence about the Barnard Castle trip was insufficiently clear for a prosecution to be brought for driving with defective eyesight. And a fraud prosecution over his claim to have warned about a pandemic in his blog in 2019, when evidence suggested that the warning was actually inserted after his return from Durham, would not succeed because there was no indication of any financial gain.

The advice found insufficient evidence for a prosecution for misconduct in public life.

By Saturday afternoon, Ms Taliefar’s crowdfunding appeal had reached more than £13,000.

A senior Downing Street source declined to comment on the proposed private prosecution.

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