Last week, I issued a statement in relation to the reports, which I have now updated, following the announcements on the case released by Durham Police on the 28th May.
I have received many emails from constituents, understandably with questions and opinions relating to this issue. They display a mix of views, from support to anger and condemnation with some raising poignant stories of loss. I recognise that many have strong feelings on this issue and understand the serious questions that people have raised about his actions, particularly given the hardship that many individuals and families are going through and the sacrifices that people have made over the recent months. I can understand why many in this position, in particular, would have felt aggrieved to learn that Mr Cummings had not stayed at home, given his role as a senior adviser to the Government who devised the rules governing lockdown.
Last week, Mr Cummings made a detailed statement explaining that his motivation to drive to Durham was to protect his son, explaining step-by-step the actions he took in the light of his own personal circumstances which he considered exceptional. Government guidance sets out that “if you are living with children keep following this advice to the best of your ability, however, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible.” Mr Cummings also added that his home in London had become a target for abuse. In these circumstances and given he said he had no access to childcare, I consider that it was reasonable for him to go to a property on his father’s farm that was isolated and removed from such threats, yet near to family childcare if it was required. I note the statement by the police on this point: “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”.
Notwithstanding, this detailed explanation from Mr Cummings ideally could have come much sooner. Whilst I do not believe that I would have come to the same decision, we are unaware of Mr Cummings’ family’s situation and without being faced with the same circumstances, it is difficult to know for sure. I fully appreciate that despite his statement some will still strongly disagree with his actions, feeling that they would have acted differently and that his actions have undermined our collective sense of moral duty and were not within the spirit of the law. I do deeply regret the clear upset this episode has caused for some people. Whether or not Mr Cummings keeps his job is a matter for the Prime Minister and he has decided that he should.
One question raised in particular by concerned constituents surrounds Mr Cummings’ visit to Barnard Castle. On this specific point, the police statement is as follows: “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”.
On the question of reports that Mr Cummings made later visits to Durham, the police have stated: “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”.
They conclude: “Durham Constabulary will take no further action in this matter and has informed Mr Cummings of this decision”.
I do therefore believe that the case is closed, having been formally confirmed as such by the investigating authorities. I hope we can now put this behind us and focus on tackling the huge challenges we are currently faced with. We must continue to fight this virus, prepare for measures to be eased as and when it is safe to do so and start to get the economy going again and this is what I shall be working on with Government.