Coronavirus: Dominic Cummings says 260-mile trip during lockdown was 'right thing'

Sunita Patel-Carstairs, news reporter
·6-min read

Dominic Cummings has insisted "I behaved reasonably and legally" after it was revealed he travelled 260 miles from London to Durham during lockdown.

When asked by reporters if his trip looked good, he said: "Who cares about good looks? It's a question of doing the right thing. It's not about what you guys [the media] think."

The PM's top aide, who emerged from his London home on Saturday holding a bicycle and ball, also told off reporters for not social distancing, telling them: "You're supposed to be more than two metres apart - move out of the way."

Returning home later, Mr Cummings was asked if he would resign and replied: "Obviously not."

The prime minister's chief adviser is facing calls to resign after it emerged he left the capital with his wife and son to stay with his elderly parents in the North East - after developing coronavirus symptoms.

Durham Police confirmed they spoke to the owners of a property on 31 March - a week after the prime minister imposed the lockdown - after a call from someone reporting they had seen Mr Cummings in the area.

But Downing Street said nobody related to Mr Cummings was spoken to by police, and it was entirely right for him to seek childcare for his four-year-old son.

"Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for," Number 10 said in a statement earlier.

"His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed. His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside. At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported. His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps could not say at the daily briefing when Boris Johnson had known of the trip but said the prime minister was offering Mr Cummings his "full support".

Asked to clarify guidance about travelling during lockdown, deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said it was "clear" someone with symptoms should self-isolate along with their family.

Dr Harries said if there was a "safeguarding issue" where a child had "no support", that was also an issue.

"There's always a safeguarding clause in all of the advice," she said, adding: "The interpretation of that advice is probably for others."

Analysis: Number 10 statement raises more questions

By Rob Powell, political correspondent

It's very hard to see how Mr Cummings has complied with coronavirus guidelines when rule number one is to stay at home and self-isolate if anyone in your household has symptoms.

Families who have struggled with the virus may wonder why the top adviser was not able to get help with shopping from family and friends at his London home, rather than making the 260-mile trip to Durham.

Downing Street has also not addressed who cared for Mr Cummings's young son after he had travelled to the North East.

Anonymous allies suggested last night that grandparents had helped. If true, that would be a further breach of lockdown rules, potentially exposing two vulnerable individuals to the virus.

Then there is the tacit accusation from Number 10 that Durham Constabulary lied to the press when it said officers had spoken to Mr Cummings's family about the trip.

Durham Police said it was standing by its statement when contacted by Sky News for a response to Number 10's version of events.

Officers were tipped off by a member of the public that Mr Cummings was staying with his parents.

"In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the arrangements around self-isolation guidelines and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel," the force said.

Opposition parties said Mr Cummings "must go", and accused Downing Street of a "cover-up".

Labour and the SNP have written to the civil service chief Sir Mark Sedwill to call for an inquiry into Mr Cummings' actions.

Senior members of government voiced their support for Mr Cummings, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who tweeted: "I know how ill coronavirus makes you. It was entirely right for Dom Cummings to find childcare for his toddler, when both he and his wife were getting ill."

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused opponents of Mr Cummings of "seeking to politicise" the issue, while his cabinet colleague Michael Gove added: "Caring for your wife and child is not a crime."

At the daily briefing, Mr Shapps said: "Mr Cummings is in the public eye, but the reality of the matter is that a four-year-old child's welfare was the important thing.

"Parents ask themselves what they would do if they had if they no one else around and eventually you would have to turn to external support or try and be close enough to your family to provide that care, which is what happened in this
case here."

A joint investigation by The Guardian and the Daily Mirror revealed Mr Cummings left the capital at the same time as the PM was instructing people to stay at home and not travel to their second homes.

A Number 10 spokesperson had confirmed on 30 March that Mr Cummings was self-isolating after suffering COVID-19 symptoms.

Sources close to Mr Cummings earlier cited comments made by Dr Harries, who suggested in "exceptional circumstances" parents too ill to look after a child could rely on family support, among other options.

But Dr Harries made her remarks almost two weeks after Mr Cummings travelled north.

A timeline of Dominic Cummings during lockdown:

18 March: At his Downing Street briefing the PM said: "Children should not be left with older grandparents, or older relatives, who may be particularly vulnerable or fall into some of the vulnerable groups."

22 March: Government advice is that people must remain in their primary residence and not travel to their second homes: "Leaving your home - the place you live - to stay at another home is not allowed."

23 March: Strict lockdown rules are imposed which mean people can only leave their houses for essential travel.

27 March: Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock are confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus. Mr Cummings is seen running along Downing Street.

Weekend of 28 and 29 March: Over this weekend, Mr Cummings developed coronavirus symptoms, Downing Street later confirmed.

31 March: Mr Cummings travelled to his family's farm in Durham - and it was on this date that Mr Cummings's family were spoken to by police.

10 April: Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said being too ill to look after a small child was an "exceptional circumstance" and she pointed to accessing family support, among other options.

14 April: Mr Cummings is pictured in Downing Street after recovering from coronavirus.