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Timeline: How the Dominic Cummings controversy unfolded

Politics | Published:

Boris Johnson backed his top aide but there has been criticism from Tory MPs, opposition parties, scientists and even bishops.

Coronavirus – Mon May 25, 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings has stood by his actions in making a 260-mile trip to Durham during lockdown.

Here is the timeline of events around his trip.

– March 16:

Boris Johnson tells the nation people must stop all non-essential travel.

– March 23:

As the coronavirus crisis escalates, the UK is placed into lockdown with strict limitations on travel, including guidelines which tell people they should not be visiting family members outside their own household.

A letter from Prime Minster Boris Johnson to UK residents urging them to stay at home
A letter from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to UK residents urging them to stay at home (Scott Wilson/PA)

– March 26:

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Mr Cummings says he spoke to the Prime Minister at around midnight and Mr Johnson told him he had tested positive for Covid-19.

– March 27:

It is announced that Mr Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock tested positive for coronavirus, while chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty says he has symptoms of the disease and is self-isolating.

Mr Cummings said while he was at work in Downing Street he got a call from his wife to say she felt badly ill so he left the building to go home and was seen running out of Number 10 on footage captured by news crews on the street.

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He said he returned to work that afternoon but after further discussions with his wife about factors including childcare arrangements and concerns around safety at their home, they decided to drive to Durham, arriving around midnight.

– March 28:

The family stay in an “isolated property” on his father’s farm. Mr Cummings says he woke up in pain and “clearly had Covid symptoms”.

– March 30:

Downing Street confirms Mr Cummings is suffering from coronavirus symptoms and is self-isolating.

Dominic Cummings
Downing Street confirmed Mr Cummings had coronavirus symptoms on March 30 (David Mirzoeff/PA)

– March 31:

Durham Police are “made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city”.

The force says officers “made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house”.

They add: “In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the arrangements around self-isolation guidelines and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.”

– April 1:

An officer from Durham Constabulary speaks to Mr Cummings’s father, who confirms that his son, his son’s wife and child were present at the property but were self-isolating in another part of it.

– April 2:

During the night, Mr Cummings’s son is ill and goes to hospital by ambulance.

Mr Cummings said he was too ill to go, but his wife stayed the night with their son.

– April 3: 

Mr Cummings said he drove to the hospital to pick his wife and son up, but said he did not leave the car or have any contact with anybody at any point on the trip to the hospital, which he said is between two and five miles away.

– April 5:

An unnamed neighbour tells the Daily Mirror and The Guardian that Mr Cummings was seen in his parents’ garden.

The Guardian approaches Downing Street about the story, only to be told by a spokesman: “It will be a no comment on that one.”

Mr Cummings later says there are no neighbours at his parents’ “in the normal sense of the word”, with the nearest other homes being around half a mile away.

– March 30 to April 6:

The period for which Mr Cummings’s wife Mary Wakefield describes the family’s battle with coronavirus, in the April 25 issue of The Spectator.

She makes no mention of the trip to Durham and describes the challenges of caring for their son while suffering the symptoms of Covid-19.

“This might be my only really useful advice for other double-Covid parents or single mothers with pre-schoolers: get out the doctor’s kit and make it your child’s job to take your temperature.

“Any game that involves lying down is a good game.”

– April 10: 

Dominic Cummings, senior aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, answers questions from the media after making a statement
Dominic Cummings, senior aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, answers questions from the media after making a statement (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Number 10 is again contacted by The Guardian for comment regarding Mr Cummings’ trip. Instead of defending the journey, officials decline to comment.

– April 11:

Having sought expert medical advice, Mr Cummings said he was told it was safe for him to return to work and seek childcare.

– April 12:

Mr Cummings said he had decided to return to work but, because his wife was worried his illness might have affected his eyesight, they went for a “short drive” to ensure he could drive safely.

The family drove for half an hour to the outskirts of Barnard Castle town. They parked by a river, he said, and when he felt sick they walked to the nearby riverbank where they sat for 15 minutes.

Returning to the car, an elderly gentleman walking nearby appeared to recognise him, he said, adding that his wife wished the man a Happy Easter.

They stopped again on the way home, for a toilet break for their son. All three of them got out of the car and “were briefly in the woods”.

Robin Lees, 70, a retired chemistry teacher, said he had spotted Mr Cummings and this was reported weeks later when the story broke.

– April 13:

Mr Cummings and his family return to London.

– April 14: 

Mr Cummings returns to work for the first time since news he was suffering from coronavirus emerged.

Dominic Cummings with his assistant Cleo Watson
Dominic Cummings with his assistant Cleo Watson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Questions are raised about his adherence to social-distancing advice as he is photographed walking in Downing Street with fellow aide Cleo Watson.

– April 19:

An unnamed witness apparently sees Mr Cummings out walking with his wife in Durham, recognising him by his trademark beanie hat and overhearing him remarking that the bluebells are “lovely”. The claim is reported by The Observer and Sunday Mirror on May 24.

On May 25, in a statement in the garden at Downing Street, Mr Cummings says he did not return to Durham on April 19.

He said: “Photos and data on my phone prove this to be false, and local CCTV, if it exists, will also prove that I am telling the truth, that I was in London that day, I was not in Durham.”

– May 13:

The Government lifts the restriction on how far people can drive to reach the countryside and take exercise, but visits and overnight stays to second homes remain prohibited.

– May 22:

News breaks in the Mirror and The Guardian of Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham.

While there is no comment from Downing Street, close friends of Mr Cummings say: “He isn’t remotely bothered by this story, it’s more fake news from The Guardian. There is zero chance of him resigning.”

– May 23:

Downing Street stands by the PM’s chief aide, issuing a statement saying it had been “essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for” if he and his wife fell ill.

The statement insists the family was not spoken to by police “about this matter”.

Speaking to reporters outside his home, Mr Cummings says: “I behaved reasonably and legally.”

When a reporter suggests his actions did not look good, he replies: “Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.”

Later at the daily Downing Street briefing, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says Mr Cummings has the PM’s “full support” and that it had always been permissible for families to travel to be closer to relatives as long as they “go to that location and stay in that location”.

Meanwhile, the deputy chief medical officer for England, Jenny Harries, says travelling during lockdown was permissible if “there was an extreme risk to life”, with a “safeguarding clause” attached to all advice to prevent vulnerable people being stuck at home with no support.

In a new statement released later in the evening, Durham Police say officers were made aware on March 31 that Mr Cummings was present at an address in the city and that the next morning an officer spoke with Mr Cummings’s father at his own request, and he confirmed his son had travelled with his family to the North East and was “self-isolating in part of the property”.

It says the force “deemed that no further action was required. However, the officer did provide advice in relation to security issues”.

In another evening statement, a No 10 spokeswoman accuses the Mirror and Guardian of writing “inaccurate” stories about Mr Cummings.

– May 24:

Asked by a journalist outside his home whether he had returned to Durham in April, Mr Cummings says: “No, I did not.”

A host of Tory MPs call for him to resign or for Mr Johnson to sack him.

But the PM, who fronts the daily Downing Street briefing, firmly backs Mr Cummings, saying his aide acted in the best interests of his child, in a way “any parent would frankly understand”.

He insists Mr Cummings “acted responsibly, legally and with integrity”.

The PM’s comments fail to quell anger among Tory MPs, opposition parties, scientists and even bishops – one of whom accuses Mr Johnson of treating the public “as mugs”.

Durham councillor Amanda Hopgood says she has written to Durham Constabulary’s Chief Constable Jo Farrell after being made aware of a number of sightings of Mr Cummings in the area in April and May.

Mr Cummings’ parents Morag and Robert defend him in an interview with the New Statesman, with his mother saying the family had been grieving after her brother – Lord Justice Laws – died on April 5 after contracting Covid-19 while ill in hospital, and his father saying he was “disgusted” at the way the press had treated his son during the coverage.

– May 25:

As pressure continues to build on Mr Cummings to resign, he makes a public statement and takes questions from journalists in the garden at Downing Street.

In a lengthy address, he seeks to defend his actions, saying his decision to drive to County Durham was based not only on fears over a lack of childcare if he became incapacitated with Covid-19 but also concerns about his family’s safety, saying stories had suggested he had opposed lockdown and “did not care about many deaths”.

He insists he behaved “reasonably” and says he does not regret his actions.

Earlier that afternoon, Durham Police release another statement stating that the officer who spoke to Mr Cummings’ father on April 1 “gave no specific advice on coronavirus to any members of the family and that Durham Constabulary deemed that no further action was required in that regard”.

Mr Johnson tells Monday’s daily Downing Street press conference that he regretted the “confusion and anger” caused by the row, but reiterated his support for his top aide, saying “to me, he came across as somebody who cared very much about his family and who was doing the best for his family”.

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