Dominic Cummings tries to explain when and why of lockdown trip

Archie Bland

After more than seven weeks of refusing to give any detailed explanation about whether – and why - he had gone to Durham during lockdown, the prime minister’s special adviser Dominic Cummings took centre stage in an unprecedented press conference in the Rose Garden of No 10.

Here are the key exchanges with journalists:

Initial decision to travel to Durham

Cummings said that on 27 March 27 his wife, Mary Wakefield, phoned him when he was at work to say she was badly ill, that she was alone in the house with their son and concerned she could not look after the child. Cummings immediately went home, famously being captured on camera running down Downing Street.

Related: ‘I think I behaved reasonably’: Dominic Cummings defends actions in lockdown row

Cummings said Wakefield’s health improved, but that the couple were concerned they could soon both be incapacitated and unable to take care of their son. They therefore took an offer of help from his sister’s children, aged 17 and 20, to be available to help at Cummings parents’ farm if things got worse. The property had a number of separate buildings in which he said it was possible for the different branches of the family to isolate separately. He, Wakefield and their son travelled by car to the property late the same day, Cummings said, making no stops along the way and arriving at midnight. He got became sick the next day. In the event, no childcare was needed.

Cummings acknowledged that neither he nor his wife asked anyone in London for help, arguing that the family offer more than 250 miles away presented a lesser risk and to fewer people.

He did not explain why two relations of Wakefield’s who lived in the capital could not help. It was, he said, a “very complicated, very tricky situation”.

Conversations with Boris Johnson

Cummings said he did not consult Johnson about his decision to travel, arguing that “every day I have to make decisions about what to speak to him about” and that he did not deem his decision sufficiently important. He said he had a “million things on his plate”, but acknowledged that this could have been a mistake. He said that neither he nor Johnson had a detailed recollection of the conversation in which he told the PM that he was in Durham.

Trip to hospital

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Cummings revealed a previously unknown journey to hospital a few miles from his parents’ property. He said his son became ill and was taken there by ambulance, travelling along with his wife, and stayed overnight. The following day, when the boy’s condition improved, Cummings left isolation to pick both up, claiming he had no other option because there were no taxis available. He said he had stayed in the vehicle at all times.

Cummings said he was feeling better by this point – although the night before he had been “barely able to stand up”. He acknowledged that the trip fell within his and Wakefield’s isolation period.

Shortly after the rose Garden press conference, Prof Colin Talbot, emeritus professor at the University of Manxhester, noted: “The Cummings/Wakefield family ended up in a hospital in Durham – 260 miles from home. That is precisely the reason the lockdown told people to stay at home if they get sick. So as not to spread the virus around the country.”

Walk in the woods

Cummings said as he began to recover, he tried a walk in the woods owned by his father, next to the house. He said he and his family saw some people there, but had no interaction. “We had not left the property,” he added. “We were on private land.”

Trip to Barnard Castle

In arguably the most unusual part of his explanation, Cummings admitted for the first time that he had driven 30 mile to the town of Barnard Castle on 12 April – Wakefield’s birthday. He said this journey – with his wife and child on board – was essential as a means of testing his eyesight before embarking on the journey to London. He did not explain why such a drive would be safe if there were concerns over his ability to see, why he could not make a test journey shorter than the half hour he said it took him to get there, or why his wife and child were with him for the experiment.

In Barnard Castle, he said, the family got out of the car and sat by a river for 15 minutes, where an elderly man recognised them – probably retired chemistry teacher Robin Lees, who has described seeing Cummings in the town. Wakefield wished the man a Happy Easter. But, Cummings insisted, at no point did the family break physical distancing rules.

On the journey home, he stopped the car so that his son could go to the toilet at the side of the road. He said nobody was nearby at the time. On the face of it, the drive to Barnard Castle would appear to be another clear breach of the lockdown rules that were in place at the time.

Return to London and stop for petrol

Cummings said that when the family left for Durham they had had a full tank of petrol, meaning there was no need to stop on the way up. He said he was “pretty sure we called in and filled up with petrol on the way back” but that he had been cleared to return to work and so was allowed to do so.

But then he added that he was only “95% sure” of this account and that “it might be wrong”.

Claim of additional trip

Cummings firmly denied claims that he was seen in Houghall Woods – where two witnesses claim to have seen him, one saying that he remarked that the bluebells were lovely – on a subsequent occasion, after returning to London. “Photos and data on my phone prove this to be false,” he said, adding: “Local CCTV, if it exists, would also prove that I’m telling the truth that I was in London on that day. I was not in Durham.”

Transparency

Cummings did not apologise for any of his actions, but expressed his regret that he had not provided a fuller account of events to the public earlier, saying: “In retrospect it would have been better to set this out earlier on.”

Asked why Downing Street has resisted answering media questions he claimed: “Answering a lot of these things doesn’t clear up confusion – it frequently has led to more confusion.” And he made the surprising claim that the media had been told things were wrong but “reported them anyway”.

Since the Guardian first contacted Downing Street about the claims more than six weeks ago, the government has consistently refused to comment or give any background briefing.

Cummings claimed articles by him and his wife in the Spectator about their experience of lockdown were justified in leaving out their location because he was concerned it would put his family in Durham at risk if they had mentioned it. He rejected the suggestion that the omission implied an understanding that it would be a controversial fact.

Judgment

Cummings returned to the question of his judgment repeatedly, saying: “I do not regret what I did. But he acknowledged that “reasonable people may disagree”. He suggested that while he understood public anger, such sentiments were largely the product of inaccurate press coverage. He declined to apologise, saying: “I don’t think that what I did in these 14 days was a mistake. I’ve certainly made a lot of other mistakes, I make mistakes every day.”