Thursday 22nd October 2020,
North Yorks Enquirer

Differing Responses to COVID-19 Hypocrisy

Differing Responses to COVID-19 Hypocrisy

NYP Essential Journeys #11

by TIM HICKS

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The Dominic Cummings Scandal

The entire country has recently been gripped by the fallout from the actions of Political Strategist and Political Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dominic Cummings, who is alleged to have breached the Coronavirus Lockdown Regulations.

The allegations are set out in full in this BBC article and have been covered extensively in the media by journalists far more experienced and skillful than me. So I will not go over them other than to state that in my opinion Mr. Cummings did breach the Lockdown Regulations and then concocted a series of convoluted, ridiculous excuses to explain this inconvenient fact away.

Mr. Cummings statement rebutting the allegations can be viewed here.

Please see this incisive analysis of the statement by the Financial Times legal journalist David Green here.

This BBC article checks the facts of the statement and also goes into the changes to his blog on the 12th of April, to show that he had been concerned about a pandemic.

NYE reader and occasional contributor Richard Ineson has asked the NYE to publish some questions about the statement. Typically with Richard, the questions are analytical and incisive. In accordance with the NYE’s policy of giving a voice to local people I am very happy to publish them in this article:

  1. Why did Mr Cummings not ask friends or family, based locally to his London home for help and support?
  2. Why did Mrs Cummings not call for medical help in London, as soon as she thought she had developed COVID-19 symptoms?
  3. Why did Mr Cummings fail to agree his intentions and movements with the Prime Minister beforehand?
  4. Can a Range Rover, with a full tank of fuel, make the journey between London and Durham (Mr Cummings estimated that the distance is 270 miles) plus the round trip to Barnard Castle, about another 60 miles (my estimate), and then return to London a total distance of 600 miles, without refuelling? Mr Cummings was asked about this in the Downing Street garden interview but was very hazy about whether or not he had refuelled the Range Rover on the way back to London.
  5. Mr Cummings is married to journalist Mary Wakefield. She wrote an article for the Spectator stating that No 10 chief Mr Cummings, 48, spent 10 days bedridden after ‘collapsing’ and having ‘spasms’ with the disease at the end of March. Contrary to their claims that the couple travelled 270 miles so they could access childcare, Ms Wakefield states in the article that Mr Cummings was nursed by their young son. How can he have been fit to drive in this state? The article does not mention the 270 mile trip to Durham and gives the impression that her husband and his family had remained in the capital, saying Mr Cummings had ‘rushed home’ when she first developed symptoms, and that they ’emerged from quarantine into the almost comical uncertainty of London Lockdown’. Full analysis in this Daily Mail article from the 23rd of May.”
  6. Why did his wife not drive the car?
  7. Did Mr Cummings break the law when, suspecting his eyesight was failing and that he may be unfit to drive back to London, he did not seek medical advice or consult an Optician or a Doctor? Instead, choosing to conduct his own eye test, by driving his car containing his wife and child on a fifty mile round trip to Barnard Castle, then decided himself that he was fit to drive?
  8. Would any appropriately medically qualified person have certified him fit to drive in these circumstances?

I leave readers to draw their own conclusions. 

The principle at issue: No one is above the law. (Unless of course you are a pal of the Prime Minister or a Chief Police Officer). 

The reason I believe this has become such a major story is because there is a fundamental point of principle at stake. We are all equal under the law and it is wrong for influential, powerful, public figures to be treated differently from the rest of us.

A former Chief Constable of Durham Police quoted in the Guardian here has described the decision by Durham Police not to prosecute Mr Cummings as ‘shameful’: 

“It is clear he has broken the rules. It could not be clearer. I cannot think of a worse example of a breach of the Lockdown rules. For it then to be defended by the government just beggars belief. What is particularly sad and undermines completely the government position is they seem to be operating in a bubble of self-privilege and denial when they all should be leading by example. ‘Hypocrite’ was invented for these circumstances… Of course it is double standards.”

“It feels like feudal times. We make the rules and it is for you, the great unwashed, to follow them.”

He perfectly sums up the situation, in my view. Durham Constabulary has subsequently confirmed that Mr. Cummings has broken the Lockdown Regulations, but will not be prosecuted. BBC article here.

Another principle at issue: Hypocrisy and illegality by journalists is unacceptable 

The role of the media in these circumstances is to hold public bodies and figures to account.

When dealing with a public figure who is trying to cover up misconduct and evading his duty to inform the public by refusing to comment, journalists have to be relentless in exposing the truth. Hence the reason that about twenty journalists and photographers confronted Mr Cummings at his home, as shown in this video.

In my opinion, door-stepping Mr Cummings was necessary to hold him to account and get to the truth. However, this does not justify journalists breaking the law.

I was sickened by the sight of about twenty journalists accusing Mr Cummings of breaking the coronavirus Lockdown Regulations, on the one hand, whilst themselves blatantly ignoring the social distancing rules, on the other. As you can see from the picture below, none of the journalists, film crews and photographers are observing the social distancing rules and are standing immediately next to one another – thereby breaching the Lockdown regulations and endangering their own safety, and that of Mr Cummings.

This is contrary to the NUJ guidance on ethical journalism while reporting on the Coronavirus pandemic, which has been agreed with the National Police Chiefs Council: 

“Journalists and photographers will be expected to comply with public health guidelines, for example keeping two metres away from others.”

It cannot be right for journalists to make allegations of crime and misconduct on the one hand, while filming themselves committing the same offence on the other. Hypocrisy of this nature is unethical and unacceptable. It serves only to risk lives and bring journalism into disrepute.

In my view, this type of hypocrisy and unethical behaviour is unacceptable. Journalists should not be above the law either.

Differing responses to hypocrisy

Some examples of the wide range of responses of public figures that have been alleged to have breached the Lockdown Regulations now follow:

  1. Professor Neil Ferguson: Do the honorable thing, admit the offence, apologise and resign

Professor Neil Ferguson was a prominent advisor to the government on its response to the COVID-19 crisis. He admitted that both he and his girlfriend had breached the Coronavirus Lockdown Regulations, apologised for undermining the government’s efforts to protect the public and resigned. Thereby preventing any distraction from the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic

This was the honourable course of action, but it is the only example of a public servant caught in misconduct doing the right thing.

  1. Dr Catherine Calderwood. Full statement, apology, try to bluff it out and carry on, then resign when that doesn’t work

Dr Catherine Calderwood was the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland who was exposed breaking the Lockdown Regulations. She admitted the offence, apologised and tried to carry on. She was supported in this by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

However, such was the strength of public feeling; Dr Calderwood was forced to resign, so that she did not become a distraction to the fight against COVID-19.

  1. Dominic Cummings: Try to bluff it out. When that fails, change strategy and try to issue a plausible denial

The relentless media pressure forced Mr Cummings to break cover and issue a full statement denying any wrongdoing. This was backed up by a statement from the Prime Minister claiming that Mr. Cummings had acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity”.

It is clear that this does not appear, in fact, to be the case. As Richard Ineson points out above, by any standard there are just too many unanswered questions.

The statement was unconvincing and failed to reassure the public that Mr Cummings had behaved properly. Consequently, there are now widespread calls for him to resign.

Unlike Professor Ferguson and Dr Calderwood, Mr Cummings did not apologise for his actions, but did admit that it would have been better if he had made a full statement earlier.

The Prime Minister has been let down very badly by Mr. Cummings, who did not keep him informed about his intentions and then triggered a major political crisis. So I admire his loyalty, which is misplaced. This issue is doing enormous damage to the fight against COVID-19 and to the Prime Minister’s party. It is not going away.

The policy of ignoring the issue failed. Now plausible denial has failed.

In my view, this issue should have been addressed openly early on, not ignored in the hope that it will go away. As soon as the strength of public opinion on this matter became clear, Mr. Cummings should have been sacked and the damage limited.

  1. And 5: Chief Constable Lisa Winward and Deputy Chief Constable Phil Cain: Maintain right to silence, bluff it out and carry on as if nothing has happened

North Yorkshire Chief Constable Lisa Winward and Deputy Chief Constable Phil Cain have blatantly contravened the Lockdown rules by indulging in unnecessary travel and attending unnecessary meetings at police and fire stations, including a police retirement ceremony where Deputy Chief Constable Cain did not observe the social distancing rules.

Between them they have:

    • Made journeys to police and fire stations in Scarborough, Skipton and Harrogate that were not absolutely necessary.
    • Not maintained the two-metre social distancing rules, thereby endangering the health and safety of police staff.
    • Publicly ridiculed members of the public that committed the same offences they themselves committed.
    • Taken advantage of their rank and position as Chief Police Officers to ensure they will not be arrested by Officers of North Yorkshire Police for contravening the Lockdown rules.
    • Failed to set the appropriate example to the public and their subordinates in North Yorkshire Police as Chief Police Officers.
    • Publicly undermined the efforts of every other Police Officer in North Yorkshire to protect the public by preventing unnecessary travel.
    • Issued public statements on social media approving of this conduct, when they should be following the example of the NYE by doing everything they can to discourage it, thereby making fools of themselves, bringing the force into disrepute and opening it up to ridicule.

The NYE has relentlessly covered this story on the basis that there cannot be one law for Chief Police Officers and one for everyone else.

It should be noted that the transgressions of the lockdown regulations by both officers are far more damaging than those of Mr. Cummings, Dr Calderwood and Professor Ferguson. They have visited multiple police stations for no valid reason, thereby potentially spreading coronavirus from station to station and endangering the lives of police officers and their families.

The comments of Chief Constable Barton above on Mr Cummings would appear to me to apply equally to Chief Constable Winward and Deputy Chief Constable Cain.

Neither officer has issued any statement, denial or apology. Had they done so, this matter would now be closed. They both appear to be following a policy of maintaining their right to silence and acting as if nothing has happened, the same as Mr Cummings.

  1. Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan: Carry on as if nothing has happened

A formal complaint has been made to Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner (PFCC) Julia Mulligan about Chief Constable Winward and Deputy Chief Constable Cain’s conduct. It has been acknowledged, but I have not been informed of the outcome.

PFCC Mulligan is refusing to comment on the case.

How can this be compatible with open policing and holding the police to account?

The NYE will continue to follow this story.

The Lockdown Rules

The NYE has been doing everything it can to support the efforts of the vast majority of NYP officers to protect the public, by promulgating police information on the Lockdown rules.

Chief Constable Winward can be heard in this Yorkshire Coast Radio article here explaining the Lockdown rules and giving police advice not to travel. (The same advice that she and Deputy Chief Constable Cain ignored).

As this article from the Scarborough News makes clear, Scarborough now leads the County in the number of fines issued for Lockdown breaches, with more fines than the rest of the county combined. SN article here. YCR article here.

Many readers will, I believe, find it hypocritical that Chief Constable Winward is lecturing the public on the coronavirus Lockdown rules and ordering her Officers to arrest and fine them for breaching them, on the one hand, while she herself breaches then with impunity, on the other.

This obviously undermines the efforts of the police and NHS to protect the public.

Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan has recently complained that Police Officers are facing serious challenges enforcing the Lockdown rules. Well pardon me for pointing out the blatantly obvious, but what does she expect, when her Chief Constable and Deputy Chief Constable don’t bother following them either? This is further compounded by PFCC Mulligan’s refusal to comment on this issue. Her silence obviously implies tacit approval of their actions.

Private Eye article

It cannot be right for police officers to arrest and fine members of the public, while ignoring the same offending by their senior officers. This simply undermines the effectiveness of the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic and encourages the public to ignore the Lockdown Regulations, as Chief Constable Winward has done.

Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that some people are ignoring the Lockdown rules and travelling to the coast. I would be very interested to know how many times police officers questioning members of the public to ascertain if they were breaching the Lockdown Regulations have been asked to arrest the Chief Constable.

Right of Reply

If you are mentioned in this article and do not agree with the views expressed in it, or if you wish to correct any factual inaccuracy, please let me know and your views and a correction will be published if appropriate.

Chief Constable Winward and Police Fire and Crime Commissioner Mulligan were both provided with a draft of this article and invited to comment, but did not.

Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner Mulligan was asked for a comment on the investigation into Chief Constable Winward and Deputy Chief Constable Cain, but did not provide one.

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