Boris Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings was investigated by police after breaking the Government’s own lockdown rules, the Mirror can reveal.
The Prime Minister’s chief-of-staff was spotted by witnesses at his parents’ home in Durham, more than 250 miles from his London property.
Mr Johnson and a string of senior ministers have repeatedly insisted the strict guidance is essential to slow the spread of the deadly disease and to save lives.
Mr Cummings started suffering from a bout of coronavirus at the end of March which left him self-isolating with his wife, journalist Mary Wakefield, and young son for 14 days.
Downing Street claimed he was holed up in his London home – and afterwards his wife wrote about “emerging from quarantine” into the London lockdown.
But a joint investigation by the Mirror and the Guardian can reveal that Mr Cummings was in fact in the North of England.
The advice, which became law on March 26, stated: “You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home. The only exception is if they need help, such as having shopping or medication dropped off.”
Police confirmed they had visited an individual at an address in the city who they had learned had travelled to Durham from London during the lockdown to self-isolate.
They spoke to the family and reminded them that travelling to stay with relatives was in breach of the rules.
A spokesman for Durham Constabulary said: “On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.
“Officers made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.
“In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel”.
Several days later on April 5, a neighbour of Mr Cummings’ parents, Robert and Morag, claims they spotted him outside the property while passing for their daily exercise .
They heard Abba’s Dancing Queen blasting out loudly and peered over the hedge where they saw him, wearing a scarf and thick coat, with a small boy running around.
The neighbour, who did not want to give their name, said: “I got the shock of my life, as I looked over to the gates and saw him.
“There was a child, presumably his little boy, running around in front. I recognised Dominic Cummings, he’s a very distinctive figure.”
They added: “I was really annoyed. I thought it’s okay for you to drive all the way up to Durham and escape from London.
“I sympathise with him wanting to do that but other people are not allowed to do that. It’s one rule for Dominic Cummings and one rule for the rest of us.”
Breaching the rules at the time could be fined £60 for the first offence, cut to £30 if paid promptly. It would be doubled on each further offence up to a maximum of £960.
Home Secretary Priti Patel announced yesterday that anyone arriving in the UK from abroad could be fined £1,000 if they failed to self-isolate for 14 days.
Mr Cummings was seen for the last time before he fell ill running out of Downing Street a week earlier.
On the same day, March 27, it was announced that the PM had tested positive for the virus, which eventually left him fighting for his life in intensive care.
No 10 claimed that Mr Cummings was self-isolating with symptoms of the deadly disease at home.
On 31 March, the PM’s official spokesman told journalists: “I think he’s in touch with No10 but he is at home, he is self-isolating, he has some symptoms.”
After he returned to work, Mr Cummings’ wife wrote about the family’s experience of self-isolating during the lockdown, but gave few clues as to their location.
She wrote: “Dom couldn’t get out of bed. Day in, day out for ten days he lay doggo with a high fever and spasms that made the muscles lump and twitch in his legs. He could breathe, but only in a limited, shallow way.
“After a week, we reached peak corona uncertainty. Day six is a turning point, I was told: that’s when you either get better or head for ICU.
“But was Dom fighting off the bug or was he heading for a ventilator? Who knew? I sat on his bed staring at his chest, trying to count his breaths per minute.
“Just as Dom was beginning to feel better, it was reported that Boris was heading in the other direction, into hospital”.
She added: “After the uncertainty of the bug itself, we emerged from quarantine into the almost comical uncertainty of London lockdown.”
In the same issue of the Spectator, Mr Cummings himself wrote: “At the end of March and for the first two weeks of April I was ill, so we were both shut in together.”
He described lockdown with Ms Wakefield and their four-year-old son as “sticky … Everything is covered in a layer of spilt Ribena, honey, peanut butter and playschool glue.”
Mr Cummings is just the latest Government figure to fall foul of the lockdown guidance.
Although it has since been eased, his actions – staying away from home overnight – would still be in breach.
Government scientist Prof Neil Ferguson quit earlier this month after he broke the strict rules to meet his married lover.
He said he deeply regretted “undermining” clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control the devastating epidemic.
“The Government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us,” he said.
In April, Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood resigned on the same day as Mr Cummings was spotted in Durham after making two trips to her second home during the coronavirus lockdown.
She admitted that her actions – which broke the rules – risked distracting from the response to the pandemic.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly praised the public for doing their bit by following the advice to stay at home.
In his lockdown TV address on March 23, he said: “Each and every one of us is now obliged to join together to halt the spread of this disease.
“To protect our NHS and to save many many thousands of lives. And I know that as they have in the past so many times.
“The people of this country will rise to that challenge. And we will come through it stronger than ever.”
Mr Cummings, 48, was photographed again in Downing Street on 14 April as he returned to work.
At the time the PM’s official spokesman said: “He is back in No 10 and working today. Everybody in No 10 continues to practice social distancing, which means standing two metres apart wherever possible.”
Mr Cummings lost his uncle, retired judge Sir John Laws who was his mother’s brother and lived in London, to coronavirus in early April.
No 10 sources claimed last night Mr Cummings had not broken the rules because he and his wife had needed his parents to look after their son while they were ill.
They cited comments by deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries claiming they suggested that in “exceptional circumstances” they could rely on family.
But Dr Harries made her remarks almost two weeks after Mr Cummings travelled to Durham – and the caveat was not in official guidance.
In addition, Ms Wakefield revealed in the Spectator that she got coronavirus first, followed by her husband 24 hours later, who then “couldn’t get out of bed” for 10 days.
It raised the possibility that the couple travelled to Durham in the 24 hours before Mr Cummings fell in – and therefore before he knew he might need childcare.
On March 18, the day the Government took the decision to close schools, Mr Johnson said at the No 10 press briefing: “I also need to remind parents that, as we have already advised, children should not be left with older grandparents, or older relatives, who may be particularly vulnerable or fall into some of the vulnerable groups and I know that will be difficult too.”
Ex-Cabinet minister David Lidington told BBC’s Newsnight said: “There’s clearly serious questions that No 10 are going to have to address, not least because the readiness of members of the public to follow Government guidance more generally is going to be affected by this sort of story.”
16 March – Prime Minister Boris Johnson advises everyone in the UK to “stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel.”
23 March – In a televised address, PM announces a UK-wide partial lockdown to contain the spread of the virus. The British public are instructed that they must stay at home, except for certain “very limited purposes”.
26 March – The lockdown restrictions come into force, with £60 fines for first-time offenders who break the rules.
27 March – No10 announces the PM has tested positive for Covid-19 and is self-isolating in Downing Street flat. That afternoon, Dominic Cummings is spotted running out of Downing Street.
30 March – No10 confirms the PM’s chief of staff is self-isolating with coronavirus-type symptoms.
31 March – Boris Johnson’s official spokesman says Mr Cummings is “at home”. The spokesman tells journalists: “I think he’s in touch with No10 but he is at home, he is self-isolating, he has some symptoms.”
Sunday 5 April – Cummings is spotted outside his parents’ property by a neighbour. The same day, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood apologises for twice visiting her second home – admitting she “made a mistake” and “cannot justify it”. She resigns that night. Also on Sunday evening, the PM is admitted to hospital after struggling to breathe and is admitted to intensive care the following day.
10 April – It emerges Robert Jenrick travelled 150 miles from London to his £1.1m mansion in Herefordshire, and 40 miles from that home to visit his parents. No10 defends the Communities Secretary, saying his family were at the Herefordshire home, and he was bringing his parents food and medicine. “We are confident he complied with the social distancing rules,” a spokesman says.
12 April – Boris Johnson is released from hospital and continues recovery at Chequers
14 April – Dominic Cummings is pictured returning to work at Downing Street. The PM’s spokesman says: “He certainly had coronavirus symptoms and that is why he self isolated.”
23 April – Wife Mary Wakefield writes about the family’s self-isolation in the Spectator magazine – and talks of emerging from quarantine “into the almost comical uncertainty of London lockdown”.
27 April – The PM returns to work and addresses the nation on the steps of Downing Street.
5 May – Professor Neil Ferguson resigns as a scientific advisor to the government after twice being visited by his lover.
10 May – Boris Johnson addresses the nation to confirm he will ease lockdown – but people in England will only be able to meet one person from another household, in public, and not stay overnight. “You must obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them,” he says.
13 May – Lockdown is eased slightly in England, with people able to take unlimited exercise and play some non-contact sports. Fines for non-compliance almost double to £100.
Government advice issued on March 23, and only changed on 11 May, is clear that people should only leave home for “very limited purposes” and not at all if they showed symptoms.
The guidance, unveiled by Boris Johnson when he announced the lockdown,
said people could leave their homes “for basic necessities”, to go to work,
to get medical help or once a day for exercise.
Government instructions said: “You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.
“The only exception is if they need help, such as having shopping or medication dropped off.”
While it stresses that you can leave your house in a couple of other exceptional circumstances, like to attend a funeral, it states that you must remain at home “if you or a member of your household are unwell with symptoms of coronavirus”.
The guidance said that people showing symptoms must isolate for seven days,and 14-days if a second person in the home starts to show symptoms.
It said: “If possible, you should not go out even to buy food or other essentials, and any exercise should be taken within your home.”
It makes an allowance for people to leave their homes, but only to get essentials and demands people “should do what you can to limit your social contact when you leave the house to get supplies”.
The guidance “prohibits by law” any gathering of two or more people except where they live together or if it is essential for work purposes or to shop for necessities.
Even the updated guidance introduced after May 11 forbids people from visiting family members, except in very limited circumstances.
Guidance now says: “For the time being, you cannot visit friends or family,
except to spend time outdoors with up to one person from a different household”
It adds: “Leaving your home – the place you live – to stay at another home for a holiday or other purpose is not allowed.”