The police and crime commissioner for Durham is to formally write to the chief constable of the force he oversees asking for an investigation into Dominic Cummings.
Steve White, the acting police, crime and victims’ commissioner for Durham, will on Monday ask the force to investigate all the claims about the prime minister’s principal adviser’s time in the Durham area during the coronavirus lockdown and establish the facts.
Cummings, along with his wife and four-year-old son, travelled 260 miles from his London home to his parents’ farm in Durham in late March. The couple say they feared they may be incapacitated by coronavirus and thus struggle to look after their child. Many view that as a breach of the lockdown rules to stay home and have called for Cummings to resign or be sacked as chief aide to Boris Johnson.
The disclosures came out of a joint investigation by the Guardian and Daily Mirror that has rocked the government since details were first published last Friday.
The letter to Durham’s chief constable, Jo Farrell, will ask her to look at all the claims about Cummings’s time in Durham. That includes an alleged sighting of him in Barnard Castle, some distance away from his parents’ home.
The letter will say an inquiry is necessary to maintain public confidence in the force.
White, in a statement on Saturday, backed the force’s handling of the matter so far. Since the Guardian and Daily Mirror first reported the story, additional allegations have surfaced.
Police and crime commissioners are responsible for holding the forces they oversee to account. Chief constables maintain operational independence.
In a statement issued on Monday, White said the Durham force had so far handled the matter appropriately.
He added: “It is clear, however, that there is a plethora of additional information circulating in the public domain which deserves appropriate examination. I have today written to the chief constable, asking her to establish the facts concerning any potential breach of the law or regulations in this matter at any juncture.
“It is vital that the force can show it has the interests of the people of County Durham and Darlington at its heart, so that the model of policing by consent, independent of government but answerable to the law, is maintained.
“It will be for the chief constable to determine the operational response to this request and I am confident that with the resources at its disposal, the force can show proportionality and fairness in what has become a major issue of public interest and trust.”
The sighting in Barnard Castle was 30 miles from the home of Cummings’s parents. It was witnessed by a man who made a note of a number plate and the witness, retired chemistry teacher Robin Lees, has made a complaint to the police. He says he saw Cummings and his family on 12 April, walking in the town before getting into a car.
At a Downing Street press conference dominated by questions about Cummings’s movements during the lockdown, the prime minister did not dispute that his adviser had made a trip to the Tees Valley beauty spot.
Police were unaware that Cummings had travelled to his parents’ farm in Durham from his London home until his father informed them.
Robert Cummings asked a friend to contact police because he wanted security advice after his son, suffering from Covid-19 symptoms, arrived in the north-east in late March.
Months earlier he had got advice on security for his son from Durham police, but had mislaid the contact details.
On 31 March, Robert Cummings contacted someone he knew had details of a senior officer in the Durham force. That senior officer arranged for special branch to contact Cummings’s father.
During that call the special branch officer gave advice on security, as well as on physical distancing.
Cummings’s father was spoken to again by police earlier this month after they became aware of claims, which are unsubstantiated, on social media and inquiries from a journalist about whether the his son had again been seen in the Durham area.
Robert Cummings denied the claim, and said his son was not present at the family farm. Police accepted his word.
In a statement issued on Saturday evening, Durham police said: “On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware that Dominic Cummings had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.
“At the request of Mr Cummings’ father, an officer made contact the following morning by telephone.
“During that conversation, Mr Cummings’ father confirmed that his son had travelled with his family from London to the north-east and was self-isolating in part of the property.”
In a statement issued last Friday, Durham police said: “In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.”
No further action was taken.
Durham police have issued a relatively low number of fines for lockdown breaches, compared with other forces.
If Durham police decide to investigate, they could use automatic number-plate recognition technology to search for sightings of any car associated with Cummings, which would help in establishing his movements in the Durham area, as well as securing CCTV footage.