Grant Shapps: Claims that Dominic Cummings travelled to Durham twice are 'not true'

24 May 2020, 10:58

Grant Shapps has defended Dominic Cummings
Grant Shapps has defended Dominic Cummings. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that claims Dominic Cummings broke the lockdown twice by travelling to Durham are "not true".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's senior adviser was reportedly seen on 12 April visiting a town 30 miles away from where he was staying in Durham, according to a joint investigation by the Mirror and the Guardian.

A week later he was spotted in Durham once again, walking with his wife in Houghal Woods just outside the city centre, despite having been seen in London just a few days before.

This suggests the senior adviser made multiple trips to and from the North East, despite the government's advice at the time being that people should stay at home to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Dominic Cummings was seen leaving his home in north London on Sunday with his wife and son shortly after 11am.

After one journalist asked if he had returned to Durham in April, Mr Cummings said: "No, I did not."

Mr Cummings, who was wearing a lanyard with an ID card, was carrying a note pad and what appeared to be a black bin bag.

The family then got in the car and drove away.

Boris Johnson has been urged to sack Dominic Cummings by a police commissioner
Boris Johnson has been urged to sack Dominic Cummings by a police commissioner. Picture: PA

Mr Shapps told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "I certainly know that the first one you mention, of travelling back up (to Durham), I know that is not true.

"I'm afraid I don't know (about Barnard Castle) but if that date was true that would have been outside the 14-day period. But I'm afraid I don't have the information on that.

"But I do know it is not the case that he has travelled backwards and forwards, which seemed to be a major part of the stories I saw in the paper today."

Mr Cummings also has no plans to resign, according to Mr Shapps.

Put to him that allowing Mr Cummings to remain in place would undermine the Government's lockdown policy, Mr Shapps added: "No, I don't agree with that.

"The guidance also states you should do the things which are practical to provide assistance, particularity where children are involved, and this was the practical solution for them.

"So no, I don't think it means - to answer your questions directly - that that's it now, let's not bother following the guidance.

"It is very important we do defeat this virus and I think people have been extraordinary in their sacrifices to do so.

"I know everyone is feeling the strain of doing it and we do need to carry on making sure we keep the R rate below one and keep reducing the numbers, that's enormously important."

Asked whether there was an "extreme risk to life" in this case, Mr Shapps said Mr Cummings' four-year-old child could not feed themselves.

Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries, at the Downing Street daily briefing, had said everyone should self-isolate unless there was a risk to life.

Mr Shapps said: "I think she (Dr Harries) has also said before about parents coming to reasonable decisions to look after their children, so essentially the same sort of thing.

"Everyone has to make a decision in these situations and remain in the same place while the lockdown, the 14 days, the isolation, is going on."

Pressed on whether there was an "extreme risk to life", he added: "They will have felt that they needed to put some measures in place.

"A four-year-old can't feed themselves, a four-year-old can't bathe themselves and change their clothes, so it is clear they wanted to put some measures in place."

Mr Shapps also confirmed he had not spoken to Mr Cummings about his travel.

"I've communicated but I haven't spoken to him directly," he said.

Dominic Cummings has been criticised for his actions during lockdown
Dominic Cummings has been criticised for his actions during lockdown. Picture: PA

In response to the fresh claims in the Mirror and Observer, a No 10 spokeswoman said: "Yesterday the Mirror and Guardian wrote inaccurate stories about Mr Cummings.

"Today they are writing more inaccurate stories including claims that Mr Cummings returned to Durham after returning to work in Downing Street on 14 April.

"We will not waste our time answering a stream of false allegations about Mr Cummings from campaigning newspapers."

Earlier on Saturday, government ministers defending Mr Cummings insisted he had stayed put upon arrival in Durham, where he had travelled to after showing symptoms of Covid-19 to get help from his extended family if required.

However, on Sunday morning Conservative MP Steve Baker tweeted that Dominic Cummings "must go" following his lockdown journey.

Read more: Labour calls for urgent inquiry into Dominic Cummings' lockdown journey

Read more: Dominic Cummings says 260-mile lockdown journey was 'reasonable and legal'

Ian Blackford speaks to Matt Frei on Dominic Cummings flouting lockdown

Two witnesses claimed to have seen Mr Cummings on separate occasions in mid-April.

One saw him in Durham on 19 April, just days after the aide was photographed in London after recovering from the virus.

A week earlier, the prime minister's key aide was seen by a different witness in Barnard Castle on Easter Day, 30 miles away from Durham, the investigation found.

Robin Lees, 70, a retired chemistry teacher from the town, says he saw Mr Cummings and his family walking by the River Tees before getting into a car around lunchtime on 12 April.

Mr Lees said: “I was a bit gobsmacked to see him, because I know what he looks like. And the rest of the family seemed to match - a wife and child. I was pretty convinced it was him and it didn’t seem right because I assumed he would be in London.”

Read more: Who is Boris Johnson's senior advisor Dominic Cummings?

Read more: "Dominic Cummings should have resigned," says SNP's Ian Blackford

The second eyewitness, who did not want to be named, speaking on the 19 April sighting, said: “We were shocked and surprised to see him because the last time we did was earlier in the week in Downing Street.”

When asked whether he was considering resigning following Friday's allegations, Mr Cumings said: "Obviously not."

He was also challenged by a reporter about whether it "looked good" to drive up to Durham to self-isolate, to which he replied: "Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.”

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has called for an urgent inquiry into the first-round of allegations that he broke lockdown measures.

In a post on Twitter, a spokesperson wrote: "Labour has written to the Cabinet Secretary calling for an urgent inquiry into allegations Dominic Cummings broke the coronavirus lockdown rules.

"The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another for government advisers."

Prime Minister is accountable for actions of Dominic Cummings says Lib Dem Leader

Mr Cummings was first spotted in Durham - almost 300 miles away from his London home - despite having had symptoms of coronavirus, a joint investigation by the Mirror and The Guardian revealed.

A No 10 spokesperson earlier on Saturday said it was "essential" that the prime minister's senior adviser travelled to "ensure his young child could be properly cared for."

"His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed. His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside," the spokesperson said.

"At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported. His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally."

However, Labour MP Rachel Reeves said the claim that the police had not got involved "directly contradicts the statement from Durham Constabulary" which confirmed that officers "were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city."

On Saturday night, Durham Police said they did speak to Mr Cummings' father, which further contradicted the statement from Downing Street.

A spokesperson for the force said: "On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware that Dominic Cummings had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.

"At the request of Mr Cummings' father, an officer made contact the following morning by telephone.

"During that conversation, Mr Cummings' father confirmed that his son had travelled with his family from London to the North East and was self-isolating in part of the property.

"Durham Constabulary deemed that no further action was required. However, the officer did provide advice in relation to security issues."

The Scottish National Party's Commons representative, MP Ian Blackford, and Liberal Democrat co-leader Sir Ed Davey both told LBC on Saturday that they believe Mr Cummings should resign.

Both politicians suggested the government had chosen to "cover-up" the story.

Ian Blackford told LBC's Matt Frei that Mr Cummings should resign
Ian Blackford told LBC's Matt Frei that Mr Cummings should resign. Picture: PA / LBC

Meanwhile, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson called on Boris Johnson to "sack Dominic Cummings forthwith to restore public confidence."

“The police’s job of enforcing the lockdown has been made much harder after both the actions of Dominic Cummings travelling over 260 miles and the flexibility with which the government now seem to interpret the guidance.

“People will now say there is one rule for them and one rule for the Prime Minister’s political advisors.

“Across the country millions of people are making sacrifices, including scores of police officers and staff who have separated from their families to protect their health and the health of the nation.

“It seems beyond belief that to justify the breach of guidance they appear to now be questioning the honesty and credibility of Durham Police.

“The Prime Minster, Boris Johnson should sack Dominic Cummings forthwith, to restore public confidence and some credibility to his handling of this dreadful Covid-19 crisis.”

Downing Street has declined to comment on the fresh allegations.