Statement on Dominic Cummings
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Over the weekend, I have received a large number of emails and messages about Dominic Cummings' decision to drive to Durham at the end of March.
These emails were prompted by constituents’ understandable concerns following the extensive media coverage of the issue.
I do not know Dominic Cummings personally. I have never met him or had contact with him. I have reserved judgement on his decision until this point because there have been numerous false stories in mainstream and social media – Dominic Cummings is an undeniably divisive figure and, over a considerable period of time, has been a target for sections of the media and people with particular political agendas.
I did not wish to base my opinion on reports that may have been factually inaccurate. Having listened carefully to the press conference on Monday evening, I now feel I should set out my views.
I believe that Dominic Cummings should have disclosed the level of detail he did on Monday evening considerably earlier. This is clearly a matter of national interest and the delay allowed numerous false stories to be circulated by the media, which have caused widespread anger and upset across the country.
Dominic Cummings explained on Monday evening that he chose to drive to Durham and stay in an isolated cottage on his parent's farm primarily because his wife was unwell and he feared that he too would soon be unwell.
He explained that although his wife was at that time too unwell to look after their four-year-old son, she was not displaying COVID related symptoms. He himself was concerned that he might imminently contract COVID because he had been working in close proximity to several people in Downing Street – including the Prime Minister – who had either been displaying COVID symptoms or diagnosed with the virus.
If, as they both feared, they would be unable to look after their child due to both of them being ill simultaneously, his younger family members - who reside in one of three separate buildings on his father’s farm - could look after their son. The alternative would have been to remain in London where, at best, someone would have to enter his house and put themselves at risk in order to care for his son.
In part, it seems that he made this decision because the media and political activists have made his home a target for a considerable period. Constant loud barracking outside one’s home would not be pleasant at the best of times, but for it to be happening whilst he and his wife were very sick would have been particularly difficult to endure. It would also be extremely frightening for a young child.
Much has been made of whether Dominic Cummings broke the lockdown regulations. The regulations give guidance as to how people should behave during the lockdown, but do not give a comprehensive description of every given circumstance. In addition, they refer to certain exceptional circumstances where it may not be possible to adhere to all aspects of the guidelines. When outlining the lockdown guidance at the end of March, the deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries OBE, made it clear who could look after a child if both parents or carers were incapacitated.
She said: “Clearly if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance. And if the individuals do not have access to care support - formal care support - or to family, they will be able to work through their local authority hubs.” In this instance, Dominic Cummings had access to family. He took the view that isolating at a remote location where his son could be cared for if necessary was preferable to the alternative of his son possibly having to go into care.
Both on the journey to Durham and throughout his stay there, Dominic Cummings stated that he practised social distancing, did not meet family and stayed in a separate building.
Dominic Cummings is fortunate to have access to an isolated building on his father’s farm at a remote location. Most of us are not so fortunate. However, that alone is not a reason to condemn him.
Had the facts accorded with what had been reported over the past three days, I believe that Dominic Cummings’ position may have been untenable. However, having listened carefully to the press conference – both his statement and the answers to the questions put by journalists – I do not believe that to be the case.
In my judgement, I believe that on balance he acted as a responsible father and within the rules. As stated above I do not know Dominic Cummings on a personal basis, but I do have sympathy for him and his family. His wife has been unwell, his child hospitalised, a family-member lost to coronavirus, and outside his house was a mob of journalists and aggressive political activists. He took advice from medical experts before returning to London.
My team and I will be replying to constituents' emails and messages on this matter soon, and I have conveyed the strength of feeling and views from my constituency to relevant people in government. However, my priority will be to reply to urgent emails from constituents struggling in this crisis.
My letter to constituents who have contacted me about this matter:
Thank you for your email about Dominic Cummings.
I fully acknowledge the sacrifices made by so many during the lockdown period and the very real anger that many people have regarding Mr Cummings’ reported movements. The overwhelming majority of people, including me, have observed lockdown as best they can and many people have lost friends or relatives to this virus and seen others become gravely ill. Nobody has been untouched by this crisis and the perception that someone in a senior position might be flouting the rules understandably makes people very angry.
I posted a statement on Monday evening (25thMay) following the press conferences at Downing Street. In my statement I set out my views. You can view the statement above.
I have tried to be open minded about it - there was much speculation circulating in the media before he gave his press conference. The key points for me were the fact that his wife was sick (although they did not yet know it was COVID), he might get sick (as he later did) and that if he did childcare would become a major problem. Added to that, his home address is known and is regularly barracked by very hostile political activists, which is deeply unpleasant, and not something that most people have experienced, but which he has been subjected to off and on since the Referendum four years ago.
He would not have had access to childcare at home, other than his son having to go into care. I know of no parent who would ever allow their child to go into care if they had an alternative, which is why I believe he chose to drive to his father's farm and self-isolate there. He is fortunate to have that option, which many people do not. But, as I said in my statement, I do not believe that that on its own is a reason to condemn him.
Since I issued my statement, the Durham Constabulary issued a statement (28thMay) regarding the findings of their investigation. Had the Durham Constabulary stated that a serious infraction of the law had taken place I would have revisited my position.
If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to read Durham Police's statement in full.
It can be viewed here:
The salient parts read as follows:
"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."
It then goes on to describe Dominic Cummings’ journey to Barnard Castle, stating:
"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. (my italics, highlighting and underlining)
"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 statement concludes:
“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 matterand has informed Mr Cummings of this decision.”
They have concluded that there was no breach in relation to the trip to Durham and only might have been a minor breach in relation to the drive to Castle Barnard that requires no further action. Therefore, in the absence of any additional facts I will not be changing my position and have nothing further to add on this matter.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.