The official version is Cummings’s own, and places him squarely in London. While the prime minister’s chief aide notoriously acknowledged a trip to Durham in late March, his denial of a second visit days after he returned was unequivocal.
On a sunny afternoon in the Downing Street rose garden, he insisted the witness who said they had seen him admiring bluebells in Houghall woods was wrong, and he had the evidence.
“Photos and data on my phone prove this to be false,” he said. “And local CCTV, if it exists, would also prove that I’m telling the truth that I was in London on that day. I was not in Durham.” Cummings has not wavered from that line, and the prime minister later said he had seen evidence himself.
A witness in London has now come forward to support that story, telling the Guardian they saw Cummings with his family on Hampstead Heath on the Sunday afternoon.
Case closed? Not quite. Since then, three other people have set out their own version of events. Like the first witness, who came forward in May, they say they saw Cummings in Houghall woods near Durham that morning, and say they are as sure as they can be it was him – but would accept they saw a lookalike if he showed them the proof.
“It would be great to see if he could produce anything,” said Clare Edwards, 59, a nurse practitioner. “I just want the truth to be out there.”
But even as those two stories conflict, the only people with the power to reconcile them appear reluctant to do so.
When Downing Street was asked by the Guardian to produce the phone data that Cummings said could prove his story, it declined. Meanwhile, two witnesses who reported their alleged Durham sighting to police say they fear the investigation into their claims was cursory at best.
The new accounts bring fresh scrutiny to how Downing Street and police handled the affair – and drag attention back to Cummings’s nightmarish few days in May, culminating in his unprecedented press conference.
Just as Cummings was speaking in the rose garden, Edwards and her husband Dave were making a statement of their own. They had gone to Durham police to report their alleged sighting. And while some of the public fury that Cummings clung on to his job without so much as an apology has abated, the couple are angrier than ever.
After they went to the police, officers dismissed the evidence as “insufficient”. However, the couple say that the internal police communications they were shown at their request, under data protection rules, may indicate that the police’s investigation fell short. They have reported Durham constabulary to the police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
Clare Edwards said in her statement to police that she saw Cummings just after 11.01am on 19 April – a detail she gave because of a timestamped photo she had taken moments before on her phone.
Dave Edwards said the man was among a group of five adults and a child. His wife added: “I’m certainly sure that it was Dominic Cummings.”
Durham police said in response: “As outlined in our statement of 28 May, Durham constabulary carried out an investigation into this matter led by a senior detective and found insufficient evidence to support the allegation.”
If Boris Johnson had hoped the affair was behind the government, the Edwards’ account – along with those of two other witnesses – is a reminder of the unanswered questions that have lingered since the Guardian and Daily Mirror broke the story in May.
There were concerns over the scope of the police investigation, which was confined to Cummings’s movements in County Durham and did not address why he left London in the first place with his sick wife, or whether hours earlier he had breached the rules by going back to work at Downing Street after tending to her.
Cummings says he did not stop on the 264-mile drive north at a time when he and his wife were likely to have been infectious. But Durham police and forces along the route have refused requests to verify this. Police have refused to answer many questions about the investigation, referring inquiries to their 393-word press statement.
There are other questions, too. Why did Cummings say he had warned about coronavirus last year, when he altered his blog to make it look as if he had? Was there really no one in London he could ask to look after his son, as he claimed? And were there “no taxis” on 3 April when he drove to Durham hospital to pick up the sick child? Taxi firms in the city insist plenty were available.
And is it possible for Cummings to have been seen in Durham and in London on the same same day?
The London witness who came forward in support of Cummings’s claim said they saw the aide, his wife and their four-year-old son on Hampstead Heath that Sunday afternoon. The witness provided a distant photograph apparently showing them at 3.31pm in a meadow area on the northern edge of the heath.
The last alleged sighting in County Durham was at 11.15-11.30am that day, near the Cummings family farm.
A typical journey time between the two spots is more than four hours – but that is in normal traffic. In an attempt to replicate the emptier road conditions of lockdown, the Guardian drove from north London to Durham early on a Sunday morning, and back. Travelling in a 17-year-old Honda Civic, the journey one way was completed in well under four hours. So it is feasible that Cummings could have made the trip in that time in his Land Rover Discovery on the empty roads during lockdown.
Such was the furore over the disclosure of his first trip to Durham, it will be difficult for the government to move on fully from the scandal without an adequate explanation. For critics, the episode has become an emblem of the government’s mishandling of the crisis. There is evidence, too, the affair damaged the nation’s unity during lockdown, a charge that may yet haunt ministers if there is a substantial second wave.
A No 10 spokesman said: “Durham constabulary have made clear they are not taking any further action against Mr Cummings and that by locating himself at his father’s premises he did not breach the regulations. The prime minister has said he believes Mr Cummings behaved reasonably and he considers the matter closed.”
There was no comment on specific allegations that Cummings was in Durham on 19 April.
With the new witness accounts, the pressure on Cummings and the government to supply phone and photographic evidence only grows. He is facing at least three legal challenges about his movements during the lockdown. In his own words: “I think that people like me who helped make the rules should be accountable for their actions.”