Partygate could have been avoided if police had investigated alleged lockdown breaches of Dominic Cummings correctly, a former regional chief prosecutor has claimed.
Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecutor for the North West of England until 2015, also expressed irritation over new revelations about the way Durham police viewed Cummings’ travels to Durham and Barnard Castle after they were revealed by the Guardian and the Mirror in May 2020.
Last month, Durham’s chief constable, Jo Farrell, admitted that her officers did not interview Cummings as part of their three-day investigation into Boris Johnson’s then-chief adviser’s lockdown movements.
She told the Mirror that the force treated Cummings’ televised press conference in Downing Street’s rose garden as a testimony of his behavior instead.
In May 2021, Cummings admitted to MPs that he did not tell the whole truth in the rose garden. “I should probably explain some things about this that were not publicly available at the time in the rose garden,” he told a joint session of two select committees.
In a speech to the Guardian, Afzal said: “The police relied on an account which the suspect himself has deviated from subsequently. This in itself makes it probable that the police investigation was deficient.”
Afzal’s lawyers, Hodge Jones & Allen, have written to Metropolitan Police and Durham Constabulary urging them to share “experiences” about their handling of Cummings’ behavior in light of the more thorough investigation the officers eventually conducted in Partygate.
And they asked if Met still stood by his decision not to investigate Cummings, who left London for Durham when he had suspected Covid.
Afzal said: “Had the police quickly and thoroughly investigated those responsible for setting the rules but apparently violated the rules, Partygate might not have happened.
“Compared to Dominic Cummings, then a key player in Downing Street, Durham police could and should have done so at the time of the breaches and when they were presented with evidence and complaints.
“Such an action would have reinforced the message to the Prime Minister and those around him that the Covid rules, which they created and encouraged others to follow, must be observed, both in spirit and literally.”
After a three-day investigation in May 2020, Durham police concluded that Cummings’ infamous trip to Barnard Castle likely constituted a “minor” breach of the rules.
But the force took no further action and found no conclusion about Cummings’ decision to leave London because the investigation was limited to County Durham. It also said there was insufficient evidence that Cummings made another trip to Durham on April 19, 2020, despite taking statements from nurse Clare Edwards and her husband, Dave, claiming they had seen him. in Durham that day.
In February 2021, Durham police rejected a 225-page dossier submitted by Afzal’s lawyers alleging that Cummings had violated Covid rules several times.
It also claimed that Cummings distorted the course of justice in his account of his trip to Barnard Castle on 12 April and his denial of an allegation that he made another lockdown trip to Durham around 19 April.
Last May, Cummings again insisted to MPs that it was “false” to claim he was making another trip to Durham. But he apparently admitted that they were leaving London for the second time due to security concerns: “It’s true that I moved my family out again.”
When Cummings was asked to explain how four people claimed to have seen him in and around Durham’s Houghall Woods on the morning of April 19, Cummings told the Guardian: “I did not return to Durham d. [the] 19. I was in London d [the] 19. and with my son at Hampstead Heath, and phone data proves it. “
The Guardian has seen a photograph taken at 3:31 p.m. that day that appears to show Cummings at Hampstead Heath with his family. It also determined that it was possible to drive from Durham to London in under four hours during the lockdown.
Farrell explained Durham’s decision not to interview Cummings and told the Mirror: “I remember thinking while he was talking that it would be the account of the circumstances.
“From a proportionality point of view, there was a comprehensive and well-documented narrative of what he had done and where he had been. We used it and information about the decision-making around it. “
Met told Afzal’s lawyers they had no information on experience from the Cummings case and referred the matter to Durham police. Durham police have not yet responded, but Farrell told the Mirror she was “confident and satisfied the decisions we made at the time will stand the test of time”.