Cummings: Barnard Castle saga was 'complete disaster' that 'undermined public confidence'

26 May 2021, 14:48 | Updated: 26 May 2021, 14:53

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The Barnard Castle saga was a "complete disaster" that "undermined public confidence" in the government's response to the pandemic, Dominic Cummings has told MPs.

Addressing the infamous Durham trip last spring, the prime minister's former adviser told the Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee that it was "a terrible, terrible, terrible mistake" which he is "extremely sorry about".

Mr Cummings also revealed that he and the prime minister did not "tell the full story" about his lockdown trip.

He conceded that he understood why people might think it was "weird" for him to test his eyesight by driving to the attraction, adding that he wished he had "never heard of Barnard Castle and never gone".

"I can only apologise for the whole debacle," he told MPs.

It comes as the former key aide gave bombshell evidence to the committee over the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, during which he said Matt Hancock should have been fired for lying, the government's claim of a protective ring around care homes was "nonsense", and that the PM allegedly wanted to be injected with Covid live on TV to prove it was nothing to be scared of.

Dominic Cummings admitted that he didn't tell the full story about the Durham trip
Dominic Cummings admitted that he didn't tell the full story about the Durham trip. Picture: PA

While giving evidence, Mr Cummings told MPs his version of events surrounding the Durham trip.

"I think I should probably explain some things about this that were not put into the public domain at the time in the Rose Garden because that whole episode was definitely a major disaster for the government and for the Covid policy," he said.

"In autumn 2019, I had to move out of my house because of security threats for about six weeks. On 28 February, when I was dealing with the Covid problem, on the Friday night I was down in Westminster and my wife called saying 'there's a gang of people outside saying they're going to break into the house and kill everybody inside'. She was alone in the house at the time with our then-three-year-old.

"After that, I spoke to the PM and the deputy cabinet secretary Helen McNamara about the situation and it was suggested that possibly I either move my family into government accommodation or move them off to family.

"On 22 March, the story happened... about that fake quote from me basically implying that I was happy for everyone to die, which led to further problems.

"After that weekend, I then said to my wife... 'we've got to get out of here on Friday'."

He told the committee he wanted to "keep the whole thing quiet" because he "didn't want the same problems to pop up at my parents' house up in Durham.

"When the story came out... much of the story was completely wrong," he added.

"The prime minister and I agreed that because of the security things, we would basically just stonewall the story and not say anything about it.

"I was completely mindful of the problem that when you talk about these things, you cause more trouble."

He said that by the Monday after the story came out, the prime minister decided something must be done about it due to public and media pressure.

"At this point, I made a terrible, terrible, terrible mistake, which I'm extremely sorry about," he said.

Mr Cummmings added that what he should have done was call his wife to tell her to leave London with their son while he delivered a press conference.

"Instead of that, we had a chaotic situation in Number 10 where the prime minister said, 'we're going to have to do something, you're going to have to do something' and I said, 'I am not explaining these security things otherwise I'm going to have mobs back outside my house'.

"So I ended up giving the whole Rose Garden thing, where what I said was true, but we left out a kind of crucial part of it all and the whole thing was a complete disaster and it undermined public confidence in the whole thing.

"The truth is... if I just sent my family back out of London and said 'here's the truth' to the public, I think people would have understood the situation.

"It was a terrible misjudgement not to do that.

"The prime minister got that wrong, I got that wrong, we both made a terrible Horlicks of it... that hopefully explains that situation and makes clear that I know that my misjudgement on it caused huge trouble and I deeply apologise for it."