Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top adviser has come under fire this weekend over claims he travelled from London to Durham during the first week of April with his wife and four-year-old son. Number 10 confirmed this on Saturday, the same day it was announced at least 36,675 people have died from the virus in the UK. An unnamed passer-by also since told The Observer and Sunday Mirror they also saw the 48-year-old in Barnard Castle, just outside Durham, on Easter Sunday, although Mr Cummings said outside his London home this morning: “No, I did not.”
Some residents in the small market town in the north-east were sympathetic to Mr Cummings needing his parents to help with childcare, as he “wasn’t visiting a second home”.
A dog walker, 60, told Express.co.uk on Sunday morning: “I can see where he was coming from.
“He had a good reason for breaking lockdown.
“He was not coming up just for a holiday and visiting a second home.”
Dominic Cummings is facing calls to resign over flouting lockdown rules
They added the government has been unclear with its advise for how far people are allowed to travel during lockdown, which hasn’t helped control the high number of cases in areas such as the north east of England.
The dog walker added: “I do not think the government has handled the situation very well.
“It has been concerning as there has been a high number of cases around here but yet people are still flouting the rules. What can we do?”
Another resident added: “I can understand his thoughts behind wanting to protect his wife and children but then he should lead by example and allow everyone to follow the same guidance and go wherever they like without getting in trouble.”
READ MORE: Dominic Cummings walks into Downing Street to face Boris Johnson
Mr Cummings has been defended by Cabinet Ministers
A third resident simply replied: “We do not know the full story.”
But a man buying groceries in the high street argued it wasn’t fair that Mr Cummings visited family members when the public were being forced to miss seeing their own relatives who lived close by.
He said: “The government cannot have its own rules. Why should it be one rule for them and one rule for us?”
Mr Cummings remained tight-lipped on Sunday as he headed in for crisis talks with the Prime Minister amid a flurry of fury from social media for him to resign.
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Barnard Castle residents said they understood his reasons
Mr Cummings was reportedly spotted in Barnard Castle in April
During a Downing Street briefing on March 18, Mr Johnson warned families not to ask older relatives to look after children.
He said: “Children should not be left with older grandparents or older relatives who may be particularly vulnerable. I know that’s going to be difficult too and I want to thank families for their sacrifice at this difficult time.”
And at a Number 10 briefing on April 27, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, added: “We understand the impact of not being able to hug your closest family. It affects us all too.
“We just hope we can get back to that as soon as possible. The best way we can get there, the fastest way, is for people to follow the rules.”
Barnard Castle is a market town in Teesdale, County Durham
Steve Baker also became the first Conservative MP to say Mr Cummings should “should resign and should resign now”.
Speaking to ITV News, he said: “I was surprised that Dominic broke the rules because it was such an obvious thing he should have avoided.
“I know that I’m watched as a Member of Parliament… and therefore I would have expected somebody in Dominic’s position to ensure that he complied with the rules absolutely scrupulously, so I am flabbergasted.
“There’s no doubt he does turn out good work – I’ve often said he is capable of being quite brilliant – and he’s really, I think, wrecked his position which is untenable.”
Mr Johnson is holding a meeting with Mr Cummings today
Boris Johnson also publicly backed his senior adviser at today’s Downing Street briefing, saying Mr Cummings acted “responsibly and legally and with integrity”.
The Prime Minister said: “I have had extensive face-to-face conversations with Dominic Cummings and I have concluded that in travelling to find the right kind of childcare, at the moment when both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus – and when he had no alternative – I think he followed the instincts of every father and every parent. And I do not mark him down for that.
“Though there have been many other allegations about what happened when he was in self-isolation and thereafter, some of them palpably false, I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly and legally and with integrity and with the overwhelming aim of stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives.”
Many Cabinet Ministers have also supported Mr Cummings by saying he did not break any rules.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps claimed Mr Cummings stayed put after travelling to Durham and obeyed social distancing rules.
The UK death toll has hit more than 36,000
He told the Sophy Ridge show: “I don’t have all the times and dates for you but I understand he will have travelled up there towards the end of March and stayed there, remained there for 14 days, didn’t leave the property and isolation, as per the rules and guidance.
“You’ll appreciate I wasn’t with them so I can’t tell you exactly what that journey was like, but what I do know is that Dominic Cummings – I saw a clip yesterday of him asking journalists to be spaced two metres apart, so I know he is a stickler for those rules about what to do to make sure you are following the two-metre rule and the like, so I’m sure that they took all the necessary precautions.”
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who Mr Cummings was previously an advisor for, wrote on Twitter: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak added: “Taking care of your wife and young child is justifiable and reasonable, trying to score political points over it isn’t.”
Cummings has been an advisor to Boris Johnson during the pandemic
Retired teacher Robin Lees, from Barnard Castle, said this weekend he saw Mr Cummings and his family walking by the River Tees near the town.
He told the Mirror and Observer: “I was a bit gobsmacked to see him, because I know what he looks like.
“It just beggars belief to think you could actually drive when the advice was stay home, save lives. It couldn’t have been clearer.”
But a Number 10 spokeswoman responded: “Yesterday the Mirror and Guardian wrote inaccurate stories about Mr Cummings.
“Today they are writing more inaccurate stories including claims that Mr Cummings returned to Durham after returning to work in Downing Street on April 14.
“We will not waste our time answering a stream of false allegations about Mr Cummings from campaigning newspapers.”