The Guardian first asked Downing Street on 5 April about whether Dominic Cummings had travelled to County Durham during the height of the lockdown. The response was: “It will be a no comment on that one.”
Over the last seven weeks, neither Cummings nor No 10 have wanted to provide any on-the-record explanation about his whereabouts.
With demands growing for Boris Johnson to sack his chief aide, Downing Street finally went public to defend Cummings on Saturday, but the explanation it provided appears to leave fundamental questions unanswered.
1) Why did Cummings travel hundreds of miles to Durham when he was displaying coronavirus symptoms?
Downing Street’s statement says Cummings travelled north “owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell. It was essential … to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.” His extended family had volunteered to help, it says.
That may not wash for millions of people who respected the strict lockdown in place at the time. Cummings’s home is in London, and the government rules were specific: “You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.”
Boris Johnson had implored people to stay at home and not visit relatives. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, underlined the point during the daily Downing Street press briefing on 3 April. “I end with the advice we all know. This advice is not a request, it is an instruction. Stay at home, protect lives and then you will be doing your part.”
The Cabinet Office advice is also emphatic: “Leaving your home - the place you live - to stay at another home for a holiday or other purpose is not allowed. This includes visiting second homes.”
2) Who in Downing Street knew that Cummings had travelled out of London, and had they approved his actions?
Anonymous briefings reported on Saturday by the BBC suggest that senior officials knew he had gone to Durham. But who? The chief medical officer in Scotland, Catherine Calderwood, quit in early April for visiting her second home during the coronavirus outbreak. Breaking the lockdown, or appearing to do so, was – and remains – a politically toxic issue.
3) How did Cummings get to the north-east? It’s a 264-mile journey. Did he stop off on the way, and if so where?
At the time of his trip north, his wife, Mary Wakefield, was displaying symptoms of coronavirus. His boss, the prime minister, had just tested positive, as had the health secretary. Under those circumstances, should he not have self-isolated immediately? Who did he come into contact with on his way to Durham?
4) The Guardian asked No 10 again on 10 April about whether Cummings was in Durham. The paper said it had established through interviews with witnesses that he was in the north-east, in a potential breach of the government’s lockdown guidelines. Downing Street again refused to comment. Why?
5) The Guardian continued to investigate in an attempt to properly verify Cummings’ whereabouts. Durham police issued a statement on Friday saying it had acted on a complaint that “an individual had travelled from London to Durham … [and] that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house”.
The complaint was received on 31 March. According to the force, officers reminded Cummings’s family of “the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel”.
Downing Street insists that “at no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter”, despite reports to the contrary. The police have said they stand by their statement. So who is right?
6) In late April the Spectator published articles by Cummings and Wakefield, a commissioning editor at the magazine, which described their experiences of coping with the virus. Neither mentioned their whereabouts during the period when they were ill.
@marywakefield In your Spectator account of your family's life under lockdown with coronavirus, can you confirm whether you were all at your home in London at the time?— matthew weaver (@matthew_weaver) May 6, 2020
The Guardian asked Wakefield to clarify whether the family were in London at the time. There was no response.
Downing Street said in its statement on Saturday that “Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally”.
If that’s the case, why has he been so coy about admitting he was in the north-east? How long was he there for, and when did he travel back to London?
7) On Friday, shortly after the Guardian and the Mirror were told about the complaint to the police, Downing Street was again asked to provide an explanation, almost seven weeks after the Guardian’s first approach on the issue. No 10 indicated that it did not have enough time to respond, but anonymous sources were briefing other media.
No 10 said at 7pm it had been given “insufficient notice”, but within minutes of the story breaking at 8pm, an anonymous source “close to” Cummings confirmed to the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, that he had travelled to Durham to stay in a building at his parents’ farm.
Did Downing Street sanction these off-the-record briefings, and who gave them?