Dominic Cummings might have broken lockdown rules when he made a 50-mile journey to Barnard Castle, an investigation by Durham Police has concluded.
The Prime Minister’s most senior aide claimed he made the trip on Easter Sunday, with his wife and four-year-old son, to check he was fit to drive after suffering coronavirus-related eyesight problems.
Mr Cummings insisted he had acted “lawfully and reasonably” at all times when he made the 260-mile journey from London to Durham to self-isolate at his parents’ farm at the end of March.
But an investigation by Durham Police concluded he might have committed a "minor breach" of the guidelines when he drove to Barnard Castle on April 12.
However the force, which according to the most recent data, has issued 137 fines for lockdown breaches, said it would not be taking any further action against Mr Cummings.
The force said it had investigated Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) evidence, had interviewed a witness and had reviewed the information provided by Mr Cummings at his press conference before arriving at its conclusion.
It has spoken to Mr Cummings directly to inform him of its decision.
No retrospective action for 'minor breach'
The force said it did not consider Mr Cummings had breached the regulations when self-isolating at his father’s farm in Durham at the end of March but that the trip to Barnard Castle did constitute a “minor breach”.
Its statement said the journey “might have been a minor breach of the regulations that would have warranted police intervention”.
The statement went on: “Durham Constabulary view this is 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.”
The Durham force said that in line with its approach throughout the pandemic it would not be taking retrospective action against Mr Cummings as that would amount to him being treated differently from other members of the public.
No 10: the issue is closed
Responding to the news, 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."
Boris Johnson has repeatedly offered his support to Mr Cummings. On Wednesday - when quizzed by MPs - he insisted it was “time to move on” from the affair and refused to bow to demands for a Cabinet Office inquiry into the matter.
The Prime Minister told a committee of MPs he had “seen evidence” that proved Mr Cummings was telling the truth about his two-week stay in Durham during lockdown.
He said he “totally understood” the public’s “indignation” at Mr Cummings’s behaviour but insisted some of what had been reported was “totally false”.
Reaction to the police statement
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Boris Johnson has "shown himself to be weak" in dealing with the Dominic Cummings situation.
In a clip on BBC Radio 4's the World At One programme, Sir Keir said: "The most important thing here is not, you know, these technical issues, but the problem is by not dealing with Cummings in a strong way, the Prime Minister has not only shown himself to be weak, and he has shown himself to be weak - I mean he's so desperate for this adviser he'll cling on to him through thick and thin.
"More importantly, what I'm worried about is that people might think 'well,' if Cummings doesn't have to apply by the rules, why do I have to?
"Then you're on a slippery slope."
SNP leader in Westminster Ian Blackford said the Durham saga 'transcended politics'.
It is now beyond any doubt that Dominic Cummings did break lockdown rules. @BorisJohnson has no choice but to remove him from post. This is now a matter of the Prime Minister’s own integrity - and his overriding responsibility to protect public health and trust in his government. https://t.co/tdmrxp8XxZ— Ian Blackford (@Ianblackford_MP) May 28, 2020
He added that in order for track and trace to work, "The Prime Minister must accept his responsibilities, remove Mr Cummings, and act to repair the damage this has done to the credibility of his government and public confidence in the rules".
More MPs doubled down on their criticism of the Government after The Telegraph broke the news.
The police have confirmed Cummings did break the rules. Johnson’s claim he acted “responsibly and lawfully” is even more laughable now. Others breaching the rules have stepped down, but I doubt anyone expects Cummings or Johnson to do the honourable thing. https://t.co/xAxBeUNyaj— Neil Coyle (@coyleneil) May 28, 2020
The full statement from police
"On 27 March 2020, Dominic Cummings drove to Durham to self-isolate in a property owned by his father.
"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”.)
"On 12 April 2020, Mr Cummings drove approximately 26 miles from his father’s property to Barnard Castle with his wife and son. He stated on 25 May 2020 that the purpose of this drive was to test his resilience to drive to London the following day, including whether his eyesight was sufficiently recovered, his period of self-isolation having ended.
"Durham Constabulary have examined the circumstances surrounding the journey to Barnard Castle (including ANPR, 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.
"In line with Durham Constabulary’s general approach throughout the pandemic, there is no intention to take retrospective action in respect of the Barnard Castle incident since this would amount to treating Mr Cummings differently from other members of the public. Durham Constabulary has not taken retrospective action against any other person.
"By way of further context, Durham Constabulary has followed Government guidance on management of alleged breaches of the regulations with the emphasis on the NPCC and College of Policing 4Es: Engage, Explain and Encourage before Enforcement.
"Finally, commentary in the media has suggested that Mr Cummings was in Durham on 19 April 2020. Mr Cummings denies this and Durham Constabulary have seen insufficient evidence to support this allegation.
"Therefore Durham Constabulary will take no further action in this matter and has informed Mr Cummings of this decision."
Force praised for policing 'without fear of favour'
Steve White, the Acting Durham Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner, said: “I am grateful to the Chief Constable for the work that the constabulary has conducted in extremely difficult circumstances and the comprehensive and proportionate consideration of the facts.
"I felt it important that the people of Durham and Darlington could see that the force is, and remains, fair in its approach to policing the issues arising out of the Covid-19 crisis and that it will continue to police without fear or favour.
“I am sure that the communities across the force area will continue to do their very best in preventing the spread of this disease and will continue to support the force as it works hard to decipher and provide education to the public as it polices the changing advice, regulations and legislation.
"Clarity is paramount if we are to defeat this threat, and clarity has now been provided by the force in relation to the matter concerning Mr Cummings as things stood on the dates in question.”