‘Enough evidence’ - Lawyers give their verdict on Cummings police findings

PUBLISHED: 17:00 28 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:10 28 May 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top aide Dominic Cummings arrives in Downing Street, London, as the row over his trip to Durham during lockdown continues. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top aide Dominic Cummings arrives in Downing Street, London, as the row over his trip to Durham during lockdown continues. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Police have found enough evidence to suggest Dominic Cummings did break lockdown rules, but lawyers say it’s for a court to decide.

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Regarding a trip to Barnard Castle from a property on his father’s farm, Durham Constabulary said it had concluded “there might have been a minor breach of the regulations that would have warranted police intervention”.

The force added that had Cummings been stopped by an officer on the journey “the officer would have spoken to him, and, having established the facts, likely advised Mr Cummings to return to the address in Durham.

“Had this advice been accepted by Mr Cummings, no enforcement action would have been taken.”

READ MORE: Police say Cummings may have committed ‘minor breach’ of lockdown but will face no further action

Raj Chada, head of the criminal defence department and a partner at firm Hodge Jones & Allen, told the PA news agency: “The police should not be there to decide one way or another whether he actually breached the rules, in this case that could be for the courts to decide, so I interpret this statement as them saying that there is enough evidence to say that he breached the rules (but ultimately for court to decide) but that it is not in public interest to prosecute for the reasons that they say.”

David Allen Green, a writer and commentator on law and policy, said the use of “might” in the statement means police would have “considered that there was a breach”, in order to have been in position to tell him to turn back to Durham, had he been stopped.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “It would not be for the police officer to determine criminal liability: that is a matter for the court.”

Meanwhile the anonymous lawyer and author known as The Secret Barrister said: “Lots of excitement about ‘might’.

“The reason for this is that the police don’t determine breaches; they form an opinion.

“If that opinion is disputed, a court will decide.

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“In this context, ‘might’ means the police concluded it *was*. Hence they say they would have sent him back.”

Kirsty Brimelow QC, a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, told PA: “Durham Constabulary considers that Mr Cummings did break the law when he took drove to Barnard Castle.”

She also described the force’s statement as “confusingly worded” but said it made “clear” that had an officer stopped him during his journey they would have likely advised him to go back to the house in Durham, adding: “The police are only empowered to enforce if there has been a breach of the regulations.

“Durham police demonstrate the correct approach as to how they would have dealt with Mr Cummings had they stopped him.

“It is entirely correct that they should not jump to enforcement.

“Prosecution should be a last resort.

“However, we have not seen this correct approach being applied to members of the public up and down the country.”

Her comments come as it emerged the force had issued fines to two people, from different households, who travelled together from London to Country Durham during lockdown.

The pair travelled to nearby Peterlee, about 13 miles east of Durham, on April 8, according to details obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the BBC.

This was 12 days after Cummings made his trip.

Dozens of beachgoers who travelled to the south coast on the Easter bank holiday weekend, when Cummings visited Barnard Castle, were also fined.

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