Durham police open investigation into Dominic Cummings

Key witness interviewed and police have access to vehicle-tracking software amid claims aide broke lockdown

Durham police have begun their investigation into Dominic Cummings’ alleged breaking of lockdown rules, the Guardian and Daily Mirror have learned.

A witness has been interviewed by detectives, while the officers also have access to software to track the movement of a vehicle used by the prime minister’s top aide.

The developments came after Cummings denied any wrongdoing. It also follows police being asked on Monday to establish the facts by Steve White, the acting police, crime and victims’ commissioner for Durham, who oversees the force.

By Monday evening, two detectives from Durham police visited the man who blew the whistle on the trip Cummings made to Barnard Castle, 30 miles from his family’s farm near Durham, as part of a police investigation into alleged breaches of the lockdown rules.

They visited Robin Lees, a retired chemistry teacher, at 7.30pm on Monday, two hours after Cummings’ Downing Street press conference.

The detectives took testimony about what Lees had seen on 12 April, when Cummings visited the County Durham beauty spot of Barnard Castle with his family on his wife’s birthday. The aide said he had driven there to test his eyesight, which he said had been affected by the coronavirus, before a planned drive back to London the following day.

On Monday, Cummings admitted to reports, first made in the Guardian and Mirror, that he had driven with his family to the town. He got out of the car near the River Tees for up to 15 minutes, he told the press conference.

Lees’ 30-minute discussion with the police was conducted at a physical distance in an outside area bordering the Tees.

Lees said: “They were very thorough, asking every detail of what I saw. They were not in uniform.

“They asked me a lot about my background. They wanted to know exactly what time it was. They wanted to know if it was a clear day and did I know what Cummings looked like.”

Officers have access to automatic number plate recognition software to check if cameras have caught a vehicle linked to Cummings during the 260-mile journey from London to Durham on 27 March.

Durham police face competing pressures. They are concerned not to be drawn into politics and also that their actions are proportionate – at worst, breaches of lockdown laws carry a small fine if paid quickly. The expectation is that the investigation will be completed quickly.

Durham police said on Monday: “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.”

Durham’s chief constable, Jo Farrell, received a letter from White asking her to look at all the claims about Cummings’ time in Durham. White wrote: “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.”

Lees also said that in his local area he could see clear signs of more people venturing out. He said he feared that Cummings’ behaviour had undermined the government’s “stay alert” message. “Interestingly, for the first time ever since lockdown, there were a number of groups not socially distanced there,” he said.

Contributors

Matthew Weaver and Vikram Dodd

The GuardianTramp

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