Dominic Cummings says he left Durham self-isolation to drive to Barnard Castle to 'test his eyesight'

Visit to popular Teesdale beauty spot is one of the most controversial elements of the Downing Street aide's story

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 25 May 2020 17:52 BST
Dominic Cummings says he left Durham self-isolation to drive to Barnard Castle to 'test his eyesight'

Dominic Cummings has said that he drove to Barnard Castle with his wife and child at the end of his lockdown-busting trip to County Durham in order to test his eyesight before making the long drive home to London.

Sightings of the senior Downing Street aide by members of the public in the pretty Teesdale town on 12 April - Easter Sunday - have been one of the most controversial elements of his 260-mile trip at a time when both he and wife Mary were showing symptoms of Covid-19, prompting allegations that they were enjoying a day out rather than self-isolating.

But Mr Cummings dismissed suggestions that the trip to the town, around 30 miles from Durham, was made for leisure or sightseeing purposes.

Instead, he insisted that they wanted to be sure that he was in a fit state to undertake the long drive back to the capital. He had sat by the river in order to recover from a brief bout of sickness and was seen with his wife and child in a nearby wood because they had stopped the car to allow the young boy to relieve himself when he needed the toilet, he said.

Covid-19 has not previously been linked to damage to eyesight, but Boris Johnson suggested that he too experienced problems with his vision following his own bout of coronavirus.

He told the daily Downing Street briefing: "I'm finding I have to wear spectacles for the first time in years, I think because of the effects of this thing. So I'm inclined to think that's very, very plausible, that eyesight can be a problem associated with coronavirus."

However, it is not the first time the PM has complained of poor vision. In 2014, he told an interviewer: "I’m now so short-sighted, I’m blind! My eyes used to be fantastic but now…"

Giving his account of the visit to Barnard Castle in a press conference in the 10 Downing Street garden, Mr Cummings said that he had wanted to return to London to rejoin colleagues working on the government's coronavirus response, and had sought medical advice and been told it was safe for him to do so.

But he said his wife was particularly concerned because his eyesight appeared to have been affected by the coronavirus infection which had left him in bed for much of the previous fortnight.

"My wife was very worried, particularly because my eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease," he said. "She didn't want to risk a nearly 300 mile drive with our child, given how ill I had been.

"We agreed to go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely. I drove for roughly half an hour and we ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town.

"We didn't visit the castle, we didn't walk around the town. We parked by a river.

"My wife and I discussed the situation, we agreed I could drive safely and we turn around and go home.

"I felt a bit sick. We walked about 10-15 metres from the car to the riverbank nearby. We sat there for 15 minutes and had no interactions with anybody. I felt better, we returned to the car.

"An elderly gentleman walking nearby appeared to recognise me. My wife wished him Happy Easter from a distance but we had no other interaction."

Mr Cummings said that he and his wife set off for home, but within minutes their son was demanding the toilet.

"My wife and child jumped out into the woods at the side of the road. They were briefly outside. I briefly joined them. They played for a little bit. I got out of the car and we were briefly in the woods.

"We saw some people at a distance, but at no point did we breach any social distancing rules. We then got back in the car and went home."

He said that they then returned to London on the evening of 13 April and he went back to work the following day.

But there were questions about why, if he was concerned that his poor eyesight made him unfit to drive, he had taken his wife and child with him on the drive to Barnard Castle.

Asked why he had decided to take the hour-long round trip rather than simply setting off for London and seeing whether he could cope with the driving, Mr Cummings said: "I'd been very ill. On Sunday the 12th, I said to my wife 'Let's pack up the car and go back. I've been cleared by doctors to go back to work'.

"She said - and I think it was perfectly reasonable - 'A few days ago you could barely stand up. You said that your eyesight was weird. We shouldn't just embark on a 270-mile journey and then find out halfway through that you actually can't drive that far. So we should get in the car and see if you can actually drive'.

Barnard Castle  

"The only way to avoid this problem would have been to say we would stay in Durham, which I could have done but I didn't think was the right thing to do.

"I'd been told by expert medical advice that I wasn't a danger to the public and I could go back to work in Downing Street on Monday and I was trying to do that in the safest way possible. I think that was a reasonable thing to do."

He said that he and his wife had not considered heading towards London to find out how he coped, but instead decided "Let's just whizz down the road and see how I feel".

He added: "Do I regret not just trying to drive to London and seeing if I could do it? Perhaps we should have just cracked on and tried to do the whole trip, but the whole point was I had been extremely ill, my vision had been a bit weird, my wife said 'We should drive down the road and see if your vision is weird or if you're OK' and I thought 'That's a good idea'."

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