Whilst my stance before his statement was defend Cummings, his own statement shifted my perspective. An analysis follows from Cummings’ own defence.
Yes, for ordinary people, under the circumstances, if there was a facility available to isolate in one of three farm houses as compared to being holed up in a London house, there are merits in the argument to go North.
There are however some key decisions that open up questions, as well as his role and the environment in which he was working.
He is to be commended on a performance worthy of a SpAd, out-Campbelling a model for spin. For someone in such a role, what is left unsaid is perhaps more important that what has been said.
In the environment, his boss, as well as other cabinet colleagues, had already gone down with coronavirus symptoms. His wife was also showing such symptoms. As was later shown, he was a high risk and went down with it himself. His own endorsement was to “stay at home”. He was also in the ideal place to establish how quickly the onset of symptoms is likely to affect one’s own abilities.
We do not know if Cummings himself had shown any symptoms when making the decision to drive North, whether this was a deliberate omission or not. What we do know is that he claimed to have symptoms the day after he arrived in County Durham (if not before).
Among his wife’s symptoms included vomiting. He made the decision to take the five hour drive, presumably having assessed the probability that the need would arise to stop. He claims that the journey was made in one stint.
It would undoubtedly have crossed his desk that facilities have been made available for hauliers and other employees who needed to drive should have stopping facilities available. This in fact appears to be one of the considerations made by the SAGE group, whose meetings he was reportedly in regular attendance.
Commercial health and safety requirements typically suggest that on a journey of that length, two stops should be made. The Highway Code has its own guidelines. A journey of that length requires two stops of 15 minutes each.
In short, such stops may create the risk of passing on the virus. Impairment of ability to drive, through headache, fatigue, blurred vision, nauseous feelings and others make him a danger to both his family and other road users, particularly if he does not follow the Highway Code. His car becomes a lethal weapon through his own potential negligence.
In his statement, Cummings states that at midnight preceding his dash, he was in a meeting at number 10. He was also at work the next morning, slipping out to go home before resuming his role back at Number 10.
The Highway Code advice includes to “Get a good night’s sleep before embarking on a long journey” and “A minimum break of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving is recommended”. According to his own evidence, Cummings did neither.
The second key decision was to test his eyesight and ability to drive back to London in a drive to Barnard Castle. As an experiment, it was a risk. Cummings stated that symptoms showed that he needed to take a break. His wife was in the car and one might assume she provided back up for the drive back to the farm.
The key omission is why such a caring, protective father should take such a risk of taking his son in the car when there were two nieces available to look after his son back at the farm, a journey that, if Cummings is to be believed, was not essential for his son even if it was dubiously essential for the father.
An analysis of the geography surrounding the Barnard Castle area, through Google Maps and Ordnance Survey maps show the most obvious parking areas nearby were the other side of Barnard Castle to Cummings’ route in from the North East. The nearby picturesque River Tees valley is surrounded by woodland areas to the North West and West to South, including the picturesque High Force and Low Force waterfalls unless he parked close to the town centre.
Did he find an alternative wooded beck? If not, his drive would appear to have been almost double the half hour that he claimed, given his possible approaches from the North East, through several villages with 30 mph limits, would make a half hour for over 30 miles in excess of A class road speed limits.
By this time, Cummings suggested that he took medical advice, although he neither detailed, nor was challenged, in what form this advice was taken and from who. A GP? A SAGE member? Neither did he say that having demonstrated further symptoms of nausea, he double checked that advice.
Finally, the red herrings. Steve Baker’s intervention highlights that this is not about Brexit (indeed, my own position is well documented). These incidents draw on different perspectives. Should he have made either journey, given the rules he had a hand in crafting when at least his wife, if not he himself, were highly probably carriers, even if the farm had greater appeal.
A further doubt has been cast by his wife’s report, that Cummings was effectively in bed for 10 days although in his statement, he suggests that he picked up his wife and son from hospital on the 7th day following his hasty retreat from London. Would either of his nieces been to drive whilst he was apparently significantly impaired?
On to the press, is it a red herring to show “journalistic” activity outside his house AFTER the story had broken?
The press have certainly been negligent failing to identifying the omissions and provide answers.
Cummings is of course welcome to respond as to whether or not the Barnard Castle trip was in breach of rules which he had a hand in creating. He is also welcome to elaborate on his calculation of the risk of both passing on coronavirus during the five hour drive (plus stops?) as well as to what extent symptoms may have been expected to make him a potentially mortal danger to other road users. He most certainly should explain why his son was part of the Barnard Castle trip and cover the other inconsistencies in his own crafted statement.