The police said Mr Cummings might have breached the rules by driving 30 miles (48km) from his parents’ home in Durham to Barnard Castle, a beauty spot.
“Had a Durham Constabulary police officer stopped Mr Cummings driving to or from Barnard Castle, the officer would have spoken to him, and, having established the facts, likely advised Mr Cummings to return to the address in Durham, providing advice on the dangers of travelling during the pandemic crisis,” they said in a statement.
“Had this advice been accepted by Mr Cummings, no enforcement action would have been taken.”
They said it was not their policy to take retrospective action over such lockdown breaches and they would not treat Mr Cummings differently from other members of the public. The prime minister seized on this detail during a press conference in Downing Street a few hours later.
“I’ve said quite a lot on this matter already and what I also note is that what Durham police said was that they were going to take no action and that the matter was closed. And I intend to draw a line under the matter,” he said.
Questions to advisers
Mr Johnson was accompanied at the press conference by chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance. But when reporters asked the scientific advisers if they believed Mr Cummings’s actions had undermined the official message on social distancing, the prime minister intervened to “protect them from what I think would be an unfair and unnecessary attempt to ask any political questions”.
When a third reporter asked the scientists if they were comfortable being silenced by the prime minister in this way, Prof Whitty said they did not wish to get involved in the controversy.
“I can assure you that the desire not to get pulled into politics is far stronger on the part of Sir Patrick and me than it is in the prime minister,” he said.
Mr Johnson announced a further easing of the lockdown from next Monday, when groups of up to six will be able to meet outdoors, including in private gardens, although people from different households must remain two metres apart.
Prof Whitty said visitors to someone else’s garden could go indoors to use the bathroom but that they must take precautions to keep themselves and others safe.
“If someone was to go into the loo because they had to do that, it’s absolutely critical that they wipe everything down, wash their hands all the way through,” he said.
“If you were to do something like a barbecue, remember that passing things from one person to another, if you haven’t washed your hands, you can pass the virus that way.”
People from two different households will be able to meet outdoors in Scotland from Friday and in Wales from next Monday.