Durham police believe Cummings probably did break lockdown rules

Sources say force stopped short of definitive statement because cases not tested in courts

Durham police believe Dominic Cummings probably did break lockdown rules following an investigation into his travels around north-east England during lockdown, the Guardian understands.

On Thursday the force released a report saying the prime minister’s special adviser “might have” breached health protection regulations when he embarked on a 52-mile round trip to the town of Barnard Castle with his wife and son on her birthday.

Officers might have intervened to send him home had they caught him on the trip on 12 April, or fined him if he refused, the report said.

His 260-mile journey to Durham on 27 March did not break health protection regulations, the report concluded, though it made no finding in relation to “stay at home” government guidance.

Cummings has denied any wrongdoing and said the journey on 12 April, Easter Sunday, was to test his eyesight. The prime minister and cabinet continued to stand by him on Thursday.

As part of their inquiry, detectives examined the aide’s press conference on Monday, where he repeatedly said that he had done nothing wrong, and concluded he probably did.

Police stopped short of a definitive declaration of rule-breaking because lockdown regulations had not been tested in the courts, sources with knowledge of the force’s thinking told the Guardian. They were keen not to appear to act as “judge and jury”, it is understood.

Durham is one of the forces least likely to issue fines, and said it would not act retrospectively against Cummings, whose trips were revealed by a joint Guardian and Daily Mirror investigation.

Mike Barton, a former chief constable of Durham police, said of the report: “This is not an exoneration … They would have told him to go home [during the Barnard Castle journey] and if he refused they would have fined him.”

He said the police statement on Cummings’ journey from London to Durham contained thinly coded criticism: “They are [in effect] saying he broke the guidance to stay at home, but not the regulations that were put into law. But clearly he has flouted the government plea to stay at home.”

Sir Peter Fahy, a former chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said: “People will be puzzled. How is the PM saying the Barnard Castle trip is legal when Durham police say it is not? It is an uncomfortable position the police have been left in. The public have to feel that people in positions of power are complying with the law. That’s where there is a danger.”

Robin Lees, the retired chemistry teacher who spotted Cummings in Barnard Castle and took a note of his car registration number, said he welcomed the police conclusion.

“I did not need to drive 60 miles to test my eyesight – I knew it was him. Lots of Tory MPs have said he should resign but I guess that is up to him,” he said.

“I can’t really decide on his motivation but his statement does match mine. They [the police] said he broke the rules, just like the other two – Scottish chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood and government scientific adviser Neil Ferguson. They did not get fined but they did resign.”

The Durham police statement said: “Durham constabulary have examined the circumstances surrounding the journey to Barnard Castle (including ANPR [automatic number plate recognition], witness evidence and a review of Mr Cummings’ press conference on 25 May 2020) and have concluded that there might have been a minor breach of the regulations that would have warranted police intervention. 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.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said: “The police have confirmed what we all knew, that Dominic 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.

“Keir Starmer has said that if he was prime minister, he would have sacked Dominic 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.”

Continuing to back Cummings, a No 10 spokesman said: ‘The police have made clear they are taking no action against Mr Cummings over his self-isolation and that going to Durham did not breach the regulations. The prime minister has said he believes Mr Cummings behaved reasonably and legally given all the circumstances and he regards this issue as closed.”

In their statement Durham police said of Cummings’ decision to drive from London: “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 (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. (We are concerned here with breaches of the regulations, not the general government guidance to ‘stay at home’).”

The force had carried out an exercise to establish the facts. It was asked to do so on Monday morning by Steve White, the acting police, crime and victims’ commissioner for Durham, who oversees the force.

On Friday the Guardian and the Daily Mirror revealed Cummings had driven from his London home to his parents’ property in Durham on 27 March, at a time when the public were being told to stay at home to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The Durham inquiry said there was “insufficient evidence” to back claims that Cummings was in Durham again on 19 April, and that the prime minister’s top aide had denied it.

Contributors

Vikram Dodd, Matthew Weaver and Nazia Parveen

The GuardianTramp

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