BBC News report on Dominic Cummings’ Durham lockdown trip ruled as inaccurate

A BBC news report claiming Dominic Cummings‘ roadtrip to Durham broke lockdown rules was inaccurate, the broadcaster has found after investigating a viewer complaint. 

Norman Smith, the corporation’s former assistant political editor, made an error as he read a Durham Police press release live on air, wrongly reporting that officers concluded Mr Cummings ‘broke the rules by driving from his parents’ home’.

However, the BBC’s executive complaints unit has now ruled that this was not accurate.

Mr Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former Svengali, said he made the trip to his family’s farm in County Durham because he was worried about childcare for his four-year-old son in April 2020.

But he came after fire after saying that he took a separate 30 minute, 60-mile round trip from Durham to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight – despite having Covid symptoms. 

Following the outcry over Mr Cummings’ apparent breaches, former chief prosecutor for North West England Nazir Afzal – whose older brother Umar died with coronavirus in April – submitted a dossier of evidence to detectives in Durham and urged them to investigate.

It included location data for their vehicles from congestion charge and automatic number plate recognition cameras, CCTV from Barnard Castle and areas surrounding Houghall Woods – where he was allegedly seen – and mobile phone analysis. 

But Durham Police’s deputy chief constable Dave Orford last month wrote to lawyers for Mr Afzal advising that they ‘will be taking no further action’.

Norman Smith

Norman Smith

Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings

Norman Smith (left), the corporation’s former assistant political editor, made an error as he read a Durham Police press release live on air, wrongly reporting that officers concluded Dominic Cummings (right) ‘broke the rules by driving from his parents’ home’

Mr Cummings, the Prime Minister\'s former Svengali, said he made the trip to his family\'s farm in County Durham because he was worried about childcare for his four-year-old son in April 2020

Mr Cummings, the Prime Minister\'s former Svengali, said he made the trip to his family\'s farm in County Durham because he was worried about childcare for his four-year-old son in April 2020

Mr Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former Svengali, said he made the trip to his family’s farm in County Durham because he was worried about childcare for his four-year-old son in April 2020

Mr Smith’s report on May 28 last year is not the only time the BBC has been rapped over its coverage of Mr Cummings, with Newsnight host Emily Maitliss claiming ‘the country can see’ the adviser had ‘broken the rules’. 

The Beeb was hit with 23,000 complaints and admitted it ‘did not meet our standards of due impartiality’, the regulator Ofcom declined to take further action.

BBC documentary Taking Control: The Dominic Cummings story was also found to breach accuracy rules by suggesting the special adviser was biased against Muslims.

During his inaccurate broadcast, Mr Smith said: ‘We’ve heard from Dominic Cummings saying he didn’t break the rules, we’ve heard from Boris Johnson saying he didn’t break the rules, we’ve heard from numerous cabinet ministers saying he didn’t break the rules: Durham police say, oh yes he did.

‘He broke the rules by driving from his parents’ home to Barnard Castle – you remember that 30-mile eyesight test drive.

‘Well, they say that was a minor breach of the rules.

‘The decision to drive from London all the way up to Durham, that wasn’t a breach, but the trip to Barnard Castle was a minor breach.’

A viewer complained that, irrespective of any inference which might be drawn from the statement, Durham Constabulary had not in fact said that Mr Cummings had broken Covid rules.

The corporation’s complaint’s team has now concluded: ‘The press release made clear that, in Durham Constabulary’s view, the journey to Durham had not breached any regulations in relation to Covid.

‘It went on to say: ‘Durham Constabulary have examined the circumstances surrounding the journey to Barnard Castle (including ANPR, witness evidence and a review of Mr Cummings’ press conference on 25 May 2020) and have concluded that there might have been a minor breach of the Regulations that would have warranted police intervention.

The Prime Minister\'s former Svengali said he made the trip to his family\'s farm in County Durham (pictured) because he was worried about childcare for his four-year-old son in April 2020

The Prime Minister\'s former Svengali said he made the trip to his family\'s farm in County Durham (pictured) because he was worried about childcare for his four-year-old son in April 2020

The Prime Minister’s former Svengali said he made the trip to his family’s farm in County Durham (pictured) because he was worried about childcare for his four-year-old son in April 2020 

But he came after fire after saying that he took a separate 30 minute, 60-mile round trip from Durham to Barnard Castle (pictured) to test his eyesight - despite having Covid symptoms

But he came after fire after saying that he took a separate 30 minute, 60-mile round trip from Durham to Barnard Castle (pictured) to test his eyesight - despite having Covid symptoms

But he came after fire after saying that he took a separate 30 minute, 60-mile round trip from Durham to Barnard Castle (pictured) to test his eyesight – despite having Covid symptoms

‘Durham Constabulary view this as minor because there was no apparent breach of social distancing.’

‘Although the release continued in terms which suggested Durham Constabulary believed it likely that Mr Cummings had breached the regulations, the ECU agreed with the complainant that it could not be accurately reported as saying he had done so.

‘The context being one of sharp political controversy, it was notable that, while Durham Constabulary might have taken the opportunity to say that the trip to Barnard Castle either had or had not breached lockdown regulations, they refrained from doing so, and the report was less than duly accurate in that connection.’

Mr Johnson’s former svengali sparked nationwide outrage after he drove from London to Barnard castle with his wife Mary Wakefield – who had Covid – on March 27.

He was then caught the virus himself, but after recovering he drove his family a further 25miles to the nearby beauty spot Durham Castle on Ms Wakefield’s birthday.

The special adviser claimed he suffered loss of vision due to Covid and wanted to ‘test’ his sight before driving his family back to London.

A probe concluded Mr Cummings would have been in breach of lockdown rules had he been stopped by a police officer when he drove to Barnard Castle, but cops declined to take any further action against him.

Mr Cummings – who resigned from Number 10 under in November – this week blasted the Department for Health and Social Care, calling it a ‘smoking ruin’ at the beginning of the pandemic.

Day by day, how Dominic Cummings described his fateful trip to Durham: 

Dominic Cummings faced the media on May 25 to give a day-by-day account of his battle against coronavirus and his controversial journey to his parents’ farm in Durham.

The Prime Minister’s top aide faced an hour-long television grilling at Downing Street after it emerged on Saturday he had travelled 260 miles north from London with his family amid the coronavirus lockdown in March.

He recounted his own battle with the virus, which his wife Mary Wakefield also caught, while insisting he had acted ‘reasonably and legally’ in a ‘very tricky, complicated situation’.

News of the trip sparked fury from NHS staff, bishops and Tory MPs, twenty of whom demanded Mr Cummings’ resignation as Boris Johnson maintained his adviser acted ‘responsibly and with integrity.’ 

Giving a timeline of events in his own words, Mr Cummings said:

March 26 

At around midnight on Thursday, March 26, I spoke to the prime minister. 

He told me that he tested positive for Covid. We discussed the national emergency arrangements for No 10, given his isolation and what I would do in No 10 the next day. 

March 27 

The next morning, I went to work as usual. I was in a succession of meetings about this emergency. I suddenly got a call from my wife who was at home looking after our four year old child. She told me she suddenly felt badly ill. 

She’d vomited and felt like she might pass out. And there’ll be nobody to look after our child. None of our usual childcare options were available. They were alone in the house. 

After very briefly telling some officials in No 10 what had happened, I immediately left the building, ran to a car and drove home. This was reported by the media at the time who saw me run out of No 10. 

After a couple of hours, my wife felt a bit better. There were many critical things at work and she urged me to return in the afternoon and I did. 

That evening, I returned home and discussed the situation with my wife. She was ill. She might have Covid, though she did not have a cough or a fever. 

March 27: Dominic Cummings is pictured running out of Downing Street on the day Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock test positive for coronavirus

March 27: Dominic Cummings is pictured running out of Downing Street on the day Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock test positive for coronavirus

March 27: Dominic Cummings is pictured running out of Downing Street on the day Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock test positive for coronavirus

At this point, most of those who I work with most closely, including the prime minister himself and others who sit within 15ft of me every day, either had had symptoms and had returned to work or were absent with symptoms. 

I thought there was a distinct probability that I had already caught the disease. I had a few conflicting thoughts in my mind. 

First, I was worried that if my wife and I were both seriously ill, possibly hospitalised, there was nobody in London that we could reasonably ask to look after our child and exposed themselves to Covid. 

My wife had felt on the edge of not being able to look after him safely a few hours earlier. I was thinking, what if the same or worse happens to me? 

There’s nobody here that I can reasonably ask to help. The regulations make clear, I believe the risks to the health of a small child were an exceptional situation, and I had a way of dealing with this that minimised risk to others.

Second, I thought that if I did not develop symptoms, then I might be able to return to work to help deal with the crisis. There were ongoing discussions about testing government staff in order to keep people like me working rather than isolating. 

At this point, on the Friday, advisers such as myself had not been included in the list of who were tested. But it was possible that this might change the following week. Therefore, I thought that after testing negative, I could continue working.

The Prime Minister\'s top aide faced an hour-long television grilling at Downing Street today after it emerged on Saturday he had travelled 260 miles north from London with his family

The Prime Minister\'s top aide faced an hour-long television grilling at Downing Street today after it emerged on Saturday he had travelled 260 miles north from London with his family

 The Prime Minister’s top aide faced an hour-long television grilling at Downing Street today after it emerged on Saturday he had travelled 260 miles north from London with his family

Third, there had been numerous false stories in the media about my actions and statements regarding Covid. In particular, there were stories suggesting that I had opposed lockdown and even then I did not care about many deaths.

These stories had created a very bad atmosphere around my home. I was subject to threats of violence. People came to my house shouting threats.  

I was also worried that given the severity of this emergency, this situation would get worse. And I was worried about the possibility of leaving my wife and child at home all day and off into the night while I worked in No 10. 

I thought the best thing to do in all the circumstances was to drive to an isolated cottage on my father’s farm. At this farm, my parents live in one house. 

My sister and her two children live in another house, and there was a separate cottage roughly 50 metres away from either of them. 

My tentative conclusion on the Friday evening was this: if we are both unable to look after our child, then my sister or nieces can look after him. My nieces are 17 and 20. They are old enough to look after him, but also young enough to be in the safest category. And they had extremely kindly volunteered to do so if needed.

But, I thought, if I do not develop symptoms and there is a testing regime in place at work, I could return to work if I tested negative. 

In that situation, I could leave my wife and child behind in a safe place, safe in the form of support from family for shopping in emergencies, safe in the sense of being away from home which had become a target and also safe for everybody else because they were completely isolated on a farm and could not infect anybody. 

Parents\u00BF home: The home of Cummings\'s parents in Durham, 260 miles away, which he visited during lockdown

Parents\u00BF home: The home of Cummings\'s parents in Durham, 260 miles away, which he visited during lockdown

Parents’ home: The home of Cummings’s parents in Durham, 260 miles away, which he visited during lockdown

There are no neighbours in the normal sense of the word. The nearest other homes are roughly half a mile away. So in this scenario, I thought that they could stay there for a few weeks. I could go back to work, help colleagues and everybody, including the general public, would be safe.

I did not ask the prime minister about this decision. He was ill himself and he had huge problems to deal with. Everyday, I have to exercise my judgment about things like this and decide what to discuss with him. I thought I would speak to him when the situation clarified over coming days, including whether I had symptoms and whether there were tests available. 

Arguably, this was a mistake, and I understand that some will say that I should’ve spoken to the prime minister before deciding what to do. 

So I drove the three of us up to Durham that night, arriving roughly at midnight. I did not stop on the way. 

March 28 

When I woke the next morning, Saturday, March 28, I was in pain and clearly had Covid symptoms, including a bad headache and a serious fever.

Clearly, I could not return to work any time soon. For a day or two, we were both ill. I was in bed. 

My wife was ill, but not ill enough that she needed emergency help. I got worse. She got better. 

April 2

During the night of Thursday, April 2, my child woke up. He threw up and had a bad fever. He was very distressed. We took medical advice which was to call 999. 

An ambulance was sent, they assessed my child and said he must go to hospital. 

I could barely stand up. My wife went with him in the ambulance. I stayed at home. He stayed the night in the hospital. 

April 3 

In the morning, my wife called to say that he had recovered, he seemed back to normal. Doctors had tested him for Covid and said that they should return home. 

There were no taxis. I drove to the hospital, picked them up, then returned home. I did not leave the car or have any contact with anybody at any point on this short trip. 

A few days later, the hospital said that he tested negative.  

After I started to recover, one day in the second week, I tried to walk outside the house. 

At one point the three of us walked into woods owned by my father, next to the cottage that I was staying in. Some people saw us in these woods from a distance, but we had no interaction with them.

We had not left the property. We were on private land.

April 11  

By Saturday, April 11, I was still feeling weak and exhausted. 

But other than that, I had no Covid symptoms. I thought that I’d be able to return to work the following week, possibly part time. 

I sought expert medical advice. I explained our family’s symptoms and all the timings, and I asked if it was safe to return to work on Monday, Tuesday, seek child care and so on. 

I was told that it was safe and I could return to work and seek childcare.

April 12  

On Sunday, April 12, 15 days after I had first displayed symptoms, I decided to return to work. 

My wife was very worried, particularly given my eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease. 

She didn’t want to risk a nearly 300-mile drive with our child, given how ill I had been. 

We agreed that we should go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely. 

We drove for roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town. We did not visit the castle. 

We did not walk around the town. We parked by a river. My wife and I discussed the situation. 

We agreed that I could drive safely, and we should turn around and go home. 

I felt a bit sick. We walked about 10 to 15 metres from the car to the river bank nearby. 

We sat there for about 15 minutes. We had no interactions with anybody. I felt better. We returned the car.

An elderly gentleman walking nearby appeared to recognise me. My wife wished him Happy Easter from a distance, but we had no other interaction.

We headed home. On the way home, our child needed the toilet. He was in the back seat of the car. 

We pulled over to the side of the road, my wife and child jumped out into the woods by the side of the road. 

They were briefly outside. I briefly joined them. They played for a little bit and then I got out of the car, went outside. 

We were briefly in the woods. We saw some people at a distance. But at no point did we break any social distancing rules. We then got back in the car and went home.

\'We drove for roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town,\' he said

\'We drove for roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town,\' he said

‘We drove for roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town,’ he said

Robin Lees says he saw someone who \'looked like\' Mr Cummings here in Barnard Castle on April 12, and the \'distinctive\' number plate he took down corresponds to Mr Cummings\' car

Robin Lees says he saw someone who \'looked like\' Mr Cummings here in Barnard Castle on April 12, and the \'distinctive\' number plate he took down corresponds to Mr Cummings\' car

Robin Lees says he saw someone who ‘looked like’ Mr Cummings here in Barnard Castle on April 12, and the ‘distinctive’ number plate he took down corresponds to Mr Cummings’ car

April 13 

We returned to London on the evening of Monday, April 13, Easter Monday. I went back to work in No 10 the next morning. 

At no point between arriving and leaving Durham did any of the three of us enter my parents’ house or my sister’s house. Our only exchanges were shouted conversations at a distance. My sister shopped for us and left everything outside.

In the last few days, there have been many media reports that I returned to Durham after 13 April. All these stories are false.  

During this two-week period, my mother’s brother died with Covid. There are media reports that this had some influence on my behaviour. These reports false. 

This private matter did not affect my movements. None of us saw him. None of us attended his funeral. In this very complex situation, I tried to exercise my judgment the best I could.

Mr Cummings (pictured today)\u00A0 recounted his own battle with the virus while insisting he had acted \'reasonably and legally\' in a \'very tricky, complicated situation\'

Mr Cummings (pictured today)\u00A0 recounted his own battle with the virus while insisting he had acted \'reasonably and legally\' in a \'very tricky, complicated situation\'

Mr Cummings (pictured today)  recounted his own battle with the virus while insisting he had acted ‘reasonably and legally’ in a ‘very tricky, complicated situation’

News of the trip sparked fury from NHS staff, bishops and Tory MPs, twenty of whom demanded Mr Cummings\' resignation as Boris Johnson (pictured today) maintained his adviser acted \'responsibly and with integrity\'

News of the trip sparked fury from NHS staff, bishops and Tory MPs, twenty of whom demanded Mr Cummings\' resignation as Boris Johnson (pictured today) maintained his adviser acted \'responsibly and with integrity\'

News of the trip sparked fury from NHS staff, bishops and Tory MPs, twenty of whom demanded Mr Cummings’ resignation as Boris Johnson (pictured today) maintained his adviser acted ‘responsibly and with integrity’

I believe that in all circumstances I behaved reasonably and legally, balancing the safety of my family and the extreme situation in No 10 and the public interest in effective government to which I could contribute.

I was involved in decisions affecting millions of people, and I thought that I should try to help as much as I could do. I can understand that some people will argue that I should have stayed at my home in London throughout.

I understand these views. I know the intense hardship and sacrifice that the entire country has had to go through. However, I respectfully disagree. The legal rules inevitably do not cover all circumstances, including those that I found myself in.  

I accept, of course, that there is room for reasonable disagreement about this. I could also understand some people think I should not have driven at all anywhere.

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