A top police commissioner has attacked No 10 strategist Dominic Cummings’ decision to travel from London to Durham during lockdown, claiming it made a “mockery” of police enforcement efforts.
Martin Surl, the independent police and crime commissioner for Gloucestershire, said Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser had thrown the rules into confusion and jeopardised police attempts to make sure people don’t make unnecessary journeys.
“I think it makes it much harder for police going forward. This will be quoted back at them time and time again when they try to enforce the new rules,” Mr Surl told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I think more importantly it makes something of a mockery of police action going back when the message was very, very clear – stay at home. The police had a very harsh, very difficult message, and now it appears people could act differently.”
He added: “So I think it does undermine the policing going back, and their confidence going forward – it’ll be more difficult.”
An eyewitness has reportedly claimed he had seen Mr Cummings making a visit to in Barnard Castle on 12 April. According to The Guardian and The Mirror, the retired chemistry teacher Robin Lees has made a complaint to Durham Police about the alleged visit to the castle.
Mr Surl suggested claims made by the prime minister that his advisor had acted “legally” and “responsibly” had raised genuine doubts about what the current restrictions on movement were supposed to be.
“I take you back to when this all happened, on the 12th of April. I think the police who dealt with those [lockdown] situations then need to understand what the rules are now … or are they going to change?”
The police commissioner also suggested No 10 still had an opportunity to clear up some of the confusion, but a series of questions about Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham remained answered.
“Was he at Barnard Castle on the 12th of April? Yes or no? Was it his car number? Yes or no? Was he self-isolating during the period? Yes or no? Was he doing essential exercise? Yes or no. They are really simple questions. People know the answers, but we the public are not trusted to make our own minds up.”
It follows strong condemnation of Mr Cummings’ actions by Durham’s acting police and crime commissioner Steve White.
“Given the whole ethos of the guidance and regulations issued from the government was to reduce the spread, regardless of reason, by travelling to County Durham when known to be infected was most unwise,” said Mr White.
“To beat this crisis, we need to be selfless as millions have been. The response by the people of County Durham and Darlington have been exemplary, which makes this most frustrating and concerning.”
Amanda Hopgood, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Durham County Council, said in a statement: “A number of local residents have reported seeing Dominic Cummings on several occasions in April and May and have expressed concern about the public health implications of his presence.”
The councillor said she had “referred this matter to the Chief Constable of Durham to ask her force to investigate”.
Mr Cummings has denied he made any further visits to Durham after returning to London. “No, I did not,” he said when asked by reporters on Sunday if he had made a second trip to his parents’ home in the county.