Update on Help me hold the government to account for Covid-19 care home deaths

Update on Dr Cathy Gardner’s and  Ms Fay Harris’ legal action against health secretary Matt Hancock.

“I know it has been a while since we sent out an update but please be assured that the case is still active and a full update will be posted in the next few days.

Thank you so much for donating and sharing the link to the Crowd Justice page with your family and friends. Your generosity has ensured that we have been able to submit our full case ‘grounds’ and, following responses from the defendants, we are about to submit our final comments to the court. We then have to wait for a judge to rule on whether we can go to court or not. Next weeks update will provide more details. If you have not read our full case then go to the second update (via the link on the Crowd Justice page) and use the hyperlink in the first paragraph. This is 95 pages but is worth reading to understand the scope of our claims against the three defendants and the evidence.”

many thanks

Cathy

The case has now reached the penultimate step before action in the High Court. This is stage at which the litigants, having rejected the defendant’s reply to their case, seek the “permission” of the High Court to proceed to Judicial Review. This is a paper review conducted by a Judge with the aim of weeding out cases that do not have sufficient merit to be argued in court.

When Sky News reported the story at the beginning of June they quoted independent barrister James Robottom as saying “I’ve got absolutely no doubt that permission will be granted by the High Court to proceed to judicial review.”

But there are no certainties in legal action. Previous governments have sought to make it harder to pursue a Judicial Review.

The case is being crowd funded through the link above. Owl believes that it is very much in the public interest that the case be brought to court.

 

Roads rammed as tourists arrive for holiday heatwave weekend

Stay safe this week end, perch in the trees – Owl

Max Channon www.cornwalllive.com 

Long delays are being reported on the A30, A38, M5 and A35 as the holiday heatwave weekend begins in Cornwall and Devon.

The Met Office issued a six-day Level 3 heatwave health warning that came into force at midday yesterday.

And things are definitely hotting up on the roads, with queuing traffic on all the major routes in and out of the region.

The A38 around the Tamar Bridge and westbound beyond Plymouth, plus various parts of the A30 in Cornwall were the worst affected areas at around 11.15am this morning.

KEY EVENT

Traffic on A303 at standstill due to crash

Inrix reports: “A303 Mere By Pass in both directions blocked, stationary traffic due to accident between A350 (Chicklade) and B3092 (Mere).

“Congestion to Chicklade Westbound and Mere Eastbound. Affecting traffic between Salisbury and Yeovil, Road is blocked in both directions as police on scene await recovery.”

Max Channon

Queueing traffic and reports of crash A303

Inrix alert: “Reports of queueing traffic due to accident on A303 Mere By Pass Westbound between A350 (Chicklade) and B3092 (Mere). Affecting traffic between Salisbury and Yeovil, awaiting confirmation as to whether traffic can pass but sensors indicate the road may be blocked.”

Max Channon

Queueing traffic on A394 at Tremough

Inrix reports: “Queueing traffic on A394 in both directions from A39 (Treliever Roundabout, Tremough) to the Post Office (Rame Cross).Thought to be holiday traffic on the move.”

Max Channon

Broken down bus on main road to Dartmouth

Inrix reports: “A3122 partially blocked, slow traffic due to broken down bus near Butterwell Barn Hotel turn off. Note change of location.Originally reported to be near the Sportsmans Arms Pub. ”

Max Channon

One lane blocked on A38

Inrix reports: “One lane blocked and slow traffic due to broken down vehicle on A38 Westbound near New Road. Note change of location.Originally reported to be near Kilna Guest House. ”

Max Channon

Traffic easing on Torpoint Ferry

KEY EVENT

Traffic easing on M5, A30, A38 and other major routes

Highways England’s sensors show traffic is easing

KEY EVENT

A389 in Bodmin closed due to oil spill

Inrix reports: “A389 Priory Road Westbound closed, slow traffic due to oil spillage from Morrisons Petrol Station to Lidl Supermarket. Note change of location. Originally reported to be further up near the Church.”

Max Channon

Reports of A389 in Bodmin blocked

Inrix alert: “Reports of A389 Priory Road blocked, queueing traffic due to spillage near the Church. ”

KEY EVENT

Biker taken to hospital after crash with tractor closes beach road

A road in North Devon remains been closed after a crash involving a motorbike and a tractor.

Police say the motorcyclist has been taken to hospital and they hope to reopen the road to between Hele Bay and Barnstaple, near ilfracombe, soon.
READ MORE

KEY EVENT

M5, A35 and A396 will all be closed tonight

KEY EVENT

Hour long delays on M5 southbound

KEY EVENT

Fire service issues plea to drivers

Max Channon

Slow traffic on M5 Northbound

Inrix reports: “Slow traffic due to holiday traffic on the move on M5 Northbound from J22 ( Burnham-on-sea ) to J20 B3133 Ettlingen Way ( Clevedon ). In patches.”

Max Channon

A38 partially blocked at Buckfastleigh

Inrix reports: “A38 partially blocked, slow traffic due to broken down vehicle around A384 (Dartbridge Junction).”

KEY EVENT

Traffic easing on A30 and A38

Highways England’s sensors show traffic is easing on the A30 and A38 in Cornwall

KEY EVENT

Perranporth ‘gridlocked’ as Cornwall’s roads struggle with heatwave traffic

The beach resort of Perranporth on Cornwall’s north coast is gridlocked this afternoon, as the region’s roads struggle with heatwave holiday traffic.

Photos show a rugby pitch being used as an overflow car park is packed with vehicles – and the road into the seaside town a bumper-to-bumper queue of traffic.
READ MORE

KEY EVENT

Severe delays on M5 southbound

Inrix reports: “Severe delays and queueing traffic due to holiday traffic heading towards the coast for the weekend on M5 Southbound between J14 B4509 (Thornbury / Falfield) and J21 A370 (Weston-super-mare). Travel time is an hour and 25 minutes. ”

KEY EVENT

Traffic on the M5 south of Bristol this afternoon

Traffic on the M5 south of Bristol

Traffic on the M5 south of Bristol this afternoon

Max Channon

Expect delays on A393, says BBC

Max Channon

Traffic easing on A3O at Allet

Inrix reports: “Traffic easing on A30 from B3284 (Allet Turn Off, Allet) to A39 (Carland Cross, Carland Cross). Holiday traffic on the move.”

KEY EVENT

A361 North Devon link Road between Junction 27 M5 to Barnstaple very busy

Max Channon

Traffic “slowly easing” on Torpoint Ferry

Max Channon

Heavy congestion on M5 southbound, warns Highways England

Max Channon

Road in Exeter closed due to level crossing failure

Inrix reports: “Station Road closed, slow traffic due to level crossing failure near Pinhoe Train Station. Congestion to B3181 Main Road as traffic diverts around.The crossing barriers are stuck in the closed position since around 06:15 this morning.”

Max Channon

Very slow traffic around Torbay seafront

Inrix reports: “Very slow traffic due to beach traffic on B3201 Esplanade Road in both directions near Paignton Beach. ”

KEY EVENT

Exmouth seafront not a race track police tell Mercedes driver who overtook six cars on blind bend

Police have been forced to remind drivers that Exmouth seafront is not a race track – after a driver overtook six cars on a blind bend.

And the motorist wasn’t even driving a racing car. They were behind the wheel of a Mercedes people carrier – which had three push bikes on the roof.

READ MORE

Max Channon

Latest M5 updates

Inrix reports: “One lane closed and slow traffic due to broken down vehicle on M5 Southbound from J26 A38 (Wellington) to J27 A361 ( Tiverton ). Lane one (of three) is closed to assist with the tyre change.

“Slow traffic due to holiday traffic on the move on M5 Northbound from J24 A38 Taunton Road (Bridgwater South) to J20 B3133 Ettlingen Way (Clevedon).In patches. ”

Max Channon

Latest A38 updates

Inrix reports: “Slow traffic due to holiday traffic on A38 Westbound between A388 (Carkeel Roundabout, Saltash ) and A374 ( Trerulefoot roundabout, Trerulefoot ). In patches along the single lane stretches of the A38.

“Broken down vehicle removed on A38 Mill Road near the Butchers. No recent updates. Traffic was already struggling here due to holiday weekend traffic on the move.”

Max Channon

Latest A30 updates

Inrix reports: “Queueing traffic on A30 from B3284 (Allet Turn Off, Allet) to A39 (Carland Cross, Carland Cross). Travel time is around 25 minutes. Holiday traffic on the move.”

UK civil service braces for coronavirus inquiry

“A breakdown of trust between senior officials and Downing Street has sparked fears Whitehall could be thrown under the bus in an effort to save Boris Johnson and his top team.”

If Boris Johnson and “disruptor” Cummings can’t carry the Civil Service with them, what happens to the machinery of government? What happened to Ministerial Accountability? – Owl

Emilio Casalicchio www.politico.eu 

LONDON — British civil servants are nervous about the impending coronavirus probe.

Britain has suffered one of the highest global death tolls in the pandemic, after waiting to lock the nation down, failing to protect care homes and only mandating the use of face masks in recent weeks, among other policy stumbles.

The decisions that led to the tragedy will be pored over in the independent inquiry the prime minister announced last month — but the fight over whether officials gave the wrong advice or ministers took the wrong decisions has already begun.

“Obviously the blame game has been going on almost as long as the virus and has been gathering force,” one former senior official told POLITICO. “As the epidemic wanes, the blame game is going to get more intense. I think the civil service is absolutely expecting that.”

One senior official said those working at the top of the government were reluctant to attach their names to decisions around the pandemic. “I’ve never seen people so averse to putting things in an email,” the person said.

Civil servants who feel they are being used as flak jackets for ministers could wage a silent protest by clogging up the wheels of government, the senior official warned.

That could see ministers become personae non gratae in the offices of those running departments, be refused advance sight of papers and lose priority treatment for their pet projects. “What you will get is a closing of ranks,” the official said. “They don’t go on strike — they are too middle class. This is their version.”

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union for top civil servants, said he did not expect relations to sink so low. But he warned that a damaging blame game would see the government lose “goodwill” from a workforce that has piled on extra hours and volunteered for difficult projects. “People won’t go the extra mile,” he said.

He also said civil servants would quit their jobs, preferring to earn more in the private sector where they hope to be treated better. “People will make choices about what they do and where they work,” he argued. “You will start to lose some talented people.”

Fair hearing

Top officials are expected to face practice grillings designed to prepare them to give evidence to a panel. Penman stressed that officials did not expect a rigged outcome to the probe because — assuming its terms are balanced and open — they will get a fair hearing. Instead, he fears a briefing war in advance to frame the narrative, as, he says, has been the routine since Johnson took office.

“Before we hit COVID, that is what people around No. 10 were doing — they were throwing civil servants regularly under the bus,” he said. “So I don’t think it’s an unfounded concern.”

Indeed, a report emerged in February that Downing Street had drawn up a “shit list” of top civil servants, thought of as roadblocks to change. Government leaders, including Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, Foreign Office boss Simon McDonald and Home Office boss Philip Rutnam, have quit after negative briefings against them. The latter is suing the government for constructive and unfair dismissal over allegations of bullying by Home Secretary Priti Patel.

To some, hostility from the top comes as no surprise. Civil servants have read blogs written by top Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings, who attacked Whitehall in stark terms over its perceived failings and is said to favor “creative destruction” when it comes to reform.

The pandemic has only fueled the tensions in government. McDonald was forced to backtrack after he told a committee the decision not to take part in an EU ventilator scheme was “political.” Sedwill, bosses at Public Health England and even Health Secretary Matt Hancock are among those who have come under fire from anonymous sources in the press for their response to the crisis.

Sedwill told an event last month that the press reports were “damaging to the process of governance” and “demoralizing” for staff.

Some say an oppositional Downing Street team, made up of numerous figures from the 2016 Vote Leave campaign for Brexit, has little moral authority and will do anything to get its way — although No. 10 insists it is not behind negative briefings to the press.

Numerous current and former officials who agreed to speak for this article noted that the atmosphere could leave top civil servants fearful about the consequences of giving evidence to the coronavirus inquiry.

“People are inevitably going to be worried,” said a second former senior official. “It feels like it will come down to who has the power to get their story out, and that is something where civil servants are at a constitutional disadvantage and where the evidence of the current political team is they don’t hesitate.”

The same person warned that a negative mood could stop lessons being learned: “You have to have the ability to have the conversations about what has happened, and if people feel that the whole thing is going to become an oppositional process … [that] has long-term consequences.”

But a Downing Street official insisted the inquiry would be a fair procedure that could well “exonerate” all those involved in the pandemic response.

“If the inquiry is done fairly it may show that the advice was wrong in retrospect, but I think it should also be able to reveal that the advice was reasonable at the time on the basis of the evidence,” the person said.

The official insisted it was “absurd” to think Downing Street would “design an inquiry to frame anybody,” adding, “It would be naive of people to think that of the political layer, because I don’t think it’s ever a solution.

“There will be an inquiry, it will have recommendations and the PM has said repeatedly ‘I take responsibility for everything we did’,” the person said. “I think that is the approach you have got to take and I don’t think it can be accusatory in retrospect.”

Terms and conditions

The next battle will be over the terms of the inquiry, who chairs it and whether it has a deadline to produce conclusions. In some countries, inquiry commissions have a defined end date — but that is unusual in Britain.

It means some are already expecting Downing Street to gear the probe toward delivering the minimum political impact. “If past inquiries are anything to go by, I strongly suspect the prime minister will want this one to take place slowly — most likely to be delivering its results after the 2024 election,” said the first former senior official.

The same person argued there was no reason for preparations not to begin immediately, including setting the terms of reference and appointing a chairman. Indeed, Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance has begun preparations by putting out a call for an official to gather evidence.

The sentiment was echoed by former Johnson adviser Will Walden, who argued the government should hold a short analysis of the initial failings to learn how to better handle future waves of the virus. “I don’t think this has to be party political,” he told the BBC. “It’s not about point scoring, it has to be about learning. And frankly, government is about grown-up behavior — and that has to be the way forward.”

Johnson appeared to take the advice on board, telling the broadcaster: “Maybe there were things we could have done differently, and of course there will be time to understand what exactly we could have done, or done differently.”

 

The Guardian view on planning: put people before profit 

New green homes are needed, but the prime minister’s promise to cut red tape is a soundbite not a solution.

How much do people care about the planning system? England is about to find out. Initial reaction to the government’s plan to strip councils of their powers over development has been ferocious, with planners, architects, local government, conservation charities and housing campaigners lining up with Labour to attack it. But whether ministers can be deterred from legislation that would replace the current case-by-case decision-making process with a presumption in favour of building in designated “growth” and “renewal” zones, will depend on whether the outcry runs deeper – and how long it lasts.

It is easy to see why ministers wanted to do something to boost housebuilding. Enormous rises in the value of residential property in recent decades, particularly in the southeast, have created a feel good factor among homeowners even when the wider economic position did not justify it. Meanwhile, frustration among a younger generation locked out of these unearned riches has continued to rise. It is 10 years since the former Conservative minister David Willetts published his provocative analysis of intergenerational inequality, The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future – and Why They Should Give It Back. Over that period, the impact of the banking crisis and now coronavirus, combined with a bleak environmental outlook, mean that the prospects for younger people have got much worse. One survey last year found that 70% of 18- to 34-year-olds believe they will never own their own homes.

Eager to please these voters, among whom Conservatives know they have a problem, and to boost at least one part of the economy and jobs market, ministers and their advisers set about smoothing a path for developers across the tricky terrain of local authority planning meetings. But while Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, promised a “really serious debate” in communities about the new local planning documents, and insisted that the shakeup would “really help small builders”, the far more likely effect of the proposals, should they become law, is that local democracy will once again be the loser while property speculators, who form a powerful group of Tory donors, are the winners. While the promised “fast track for beauty” might sound attractive – for who, given the choice, does not prefer high-quality design? – in the context of a white paper that seeks to remove local scrutiny, and give developers free rein, it should be seen for what it is: a spoonful of sugar to help traditionalists swallow the rest.

It is only a few weeks since Mr Jenrick was revealed to have dined and swapped texts with the former Daily Express owner Richard Desmond in advance of granting him permission for a £1bn property scheme 24 hours before new community charges were imposed – a decision that was later quashed by the courts. Meanwhile at the Grenfell inquiry, evidence of the way that cost-cutting and safety checks were handled under a flagship Tory council continues to shock. Thousands of people across the country remain stuck in towers covered in unsafe cladding, while there is still no sign of a promised bill to strengthen tenants’ rights, a measure that is more urgent than ever given the approaching end of a freeze on evictions and predictions of an upsurge in pandemic-linked homelessness.

If the government and its MPs truly believe that a complete overhaul of a planning system created in 1947 is in the best interests of the country, and a priority in the current crisis, they must make the case for it. Environmental standards, it goes without saying, should be uppermost. Tweets from the prime minister, promising to “cut the red tape”, are not only insufficient but insulting given the recent and agonising history of buildings regulation failure. Whether green and pleasant or grey and urban, our land and the people who live on it deserve more than soundbites from the politicians who want to restrict their say over its future shape.

Homes target places Johnson on collision course with Tory shires

Boris Johnson is facing discontent from Tory-controlled local authorities by ordering England’s more affluent areas to release the most land for housing.

Under a reform of planning laws, local control over the rate of building will effectively be removed. Instead, central government will “distribute” an annual target, at present 300,000 homes, among local authorities, which will be required to designate enough land to meet it.

The consultation document proposes a new “standard model” to replace the existing system under which each council negotiates its own targets with the housing department.

It also proposes a new test to see how a development will affect its surroundings and abolishes the duty to co-operate with public bodies, such as English Heritage and the Environment Agency, on cross-boundary matters, which could dismay campaigners.

While ministers will take account of local factors such as national parks and green belts, councils that have traditionally failed to make enough land available to keep pace are being put on notice.

The document states that the new system will ensure “that the least affordable places where historic undersupply has been most chronic take a greater share of future development”.

The reforms, which also limit local politicians’ power to block individual developments, have caused unease among Tory MPs and councillors.

James Jamieson, the Local Government Association’s Conservative chairman, said: “Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern.”

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Tory MP for the Cotswolds, said: “We do need some reform, but as people who have tried this before have found, if you are not careful it does have knock-on effects.”

“Whilst I’m all in favour of building more houses, they need to be good-quality houses, we have got to be really sure that we are not building slums of tomorrow by building today at low quality,” he told the BBC.

Hugh Ellis, a director at the Town and Country Planning Association, said the greatest factor in building decent social housing for rent was investment, not planning, and warned it was “really troubling” that “this is not a democratisation of planning”.

At present, he said, critics of a building project “get two bites of the cherry, they can have an involvement in the plan, they can comment on planning applications”, he told Today on BBC Radio 4. “Half that process is going to effectively disappear.”

Shares in Britain’s biggest listed housebuilders fell yesterday amid concerns that the changes would create years of uncertainty around planning policy while the measures were consulted on and brought forward.

Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments all lost about 4 per cent of their market value.

David O’Leary, head of policy at the Home Builders Federation, said: “The big fear is this could result in a bit of paralysis for a year or two as local authorities stop working on current local plans.” However, he said that there were no major “red flags” for the big developers, which broadly welcomed the proposals. John Tutte, the chairman of Redrow, said: “I welcome anything that streamlines the planning system. It’s long overdue.”

Anthony Codling, a housing analyst, said that if the changes were implemented it could be a huge boost to big listed developers and their shareholders because they would not need to hold such big land banks. “For the largest UK housebuilders, this could free up around £1 billion of each of their balance sheets, which could fund dividends for the future.”

Smaller builders also welcomed the changes to a complex planning system that has put them at a disadvantage.

James Forrester, managing director of Stripe Homes, said: “For too long the big house builders have had a stranglehold over the sector, allowing them to drip feed developments as they see fit in order to keep house prices and their profit margins buoyant.”

The Centre for Policy Studies said that the plan for locally agreed building design codes could reduce opposition to development and make it faster and more profitable.

“Abolishing national prescriptions will clear the way for local people to set design codes on the issues that really matter to them through neighbourhood planning,” Alex Morton, the think tank’s head of policy, said.

“More broadly, these planning reforms are an intelligent first step in reform but much more detail will be needed and many vested interests will try to slow and stop reform.”

Case study

Locals locked in a four-year battle against a proposed 3,000-home development have described the news that planning laws are to be loosened as “heartbreaking” (Tom Ball writes).

Jacky Nabb, who is opposed to the building of a new village in the Oxfordshire countryside, said that it felt as though “somebody just twisted my stomach” when she heard that the government had announced plans to slash the red tape around house building.

The proposed development near Chalgrove would feature a market, a town centre, two primary schools, a secondary school, a sixth-form college and a road bypass.

After years of opposition to the plans, residents fear that the reformed planning laws would render them powerless to prevent the development from going ahead.

Ms Nabb, a Chalgrove resident, told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “It sounds really dramatic, but it broke my heart.”

Simon Reynolds, another resident, wrote on Facebook: “Fast-tracking will simply mean the local people get even less of a say than we do at present, and we are not really listened to now. South Oxfordshire district council have paid lip service to local objections but it’s all we can do.”

He urged fellow residents to oppose the planning application “while you can” before the deadline of September 1.

“Over 200 objections so far. Let’s make it three times that. Obviously the more detailed the better, but even a short objection with relevant points is good,” Mr Reynolds added.

Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, said that claims that the draft laws for England would create a generation of low-quality homes were “complete nonsense”.

Homes England, which owns an airfield that is earmarked for the development, said that it would help to “meet the unmet housing need of the area” and protect the green belt and local jobs.

Prove Dominic Cummings did not make second Durham trip, No 10 urged

Downing Street has been urged to provide proof that Dominic Cummings did not make a second trip to Durham during lockdown amid claims that police failed to properly investigate alleged sightings of the prime minister’s chief aide.

Matthew Weaver www.theguardian.com 

Two of four people who claim to have seen Cummings on what would have been a second visit to the north-east of England have complained to the police watchdog, accusing the Durham force of not fully probing their claims.

Cummings has consistently denied returning to Durham on 19 April, days after he came back to London from a trip that was subsequently exposed in a joint investigation by the Guardian and the Daily Mirror.

The prime minister’s chief adviser has said that phone data and potentially CCTV would prove he was in London – and the Guardian has been told of one sighting of him on Hampstead Heath that afternoon.

However, neither he nor Downing Street has gone public with the evidence they say they have – and which Boris Johnson says he has seen – and pressure is mounting again for full transparency to answer lingering questions about his movements.

Cummings’ initial trip to Durham caused widespread uproar and is cited as one of the chief reasons for the public losing faith in the government’s handling of the crisis.

Clare Edwards, a nurse practitioner, and her husband, Dave, say they saw a man they believe to have been Cummings on 19 April just after 11am in Houghall woods on the edge of Durham.

On 25 May they gave statements to police about the alleged sighting, just as Cummings was giving a press conference in Downing Street denying a claim by another witness that he was seen admiring bluebells with his wife in the same woods on 19 April, at about 8.30am.

Since then, a fourth witness has alleged they saw the No 10 aide and a companion in between the woods and the home of Cummings’ parents that day, between 11.15am and 11.30am.

A further witness told the Guardian that they saw Cummings back in north London, on Hampstead Heath, later the same afternoon.

Durham police found “insufficient evidence” that Cummings was in Durham on 19 April. Following that assessment, Clare and Dave Edwards, both 59, made a subject access request under the Data Protection Act, asking the force to show them all the personal information it had about them as a result of their complaint, which they hoped might reveal how it was followed up.

Most of the police correspondence about their original complaints was redacted and labelled “official – sensitive”. All pre-dated the statements given to police, which Dave Edwards suggests means the police did nothing more with those statements.

Edwards said he believed the results, returned last week, suggested that their testimony was not taken seriously. On Wednesday the couple complained to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. They said: “Given the high-profile nature of this issue, it is inconceivable that this matter has not been followed up thoroughly. We have no personal issue with Mr Cummings or his family, but we do feel that Durham police’s handling of our complaint is below the standard we would expect from our local constabulary.”

The Edwardses asked whether officers checked automatic number recognition cameras for the movements of Cummings’ car that weekend. This information would not typically be revealed under a subject access request, and the force did not answer.

Dave Edwards, who works for a manufacturing company that supplied some of the Nightingale hospitals, remains convinced that he saw Cummings among a group of five adults and a child. “He was the dead image of Dominic Cummings. He was standing over a small child on a bike. As I got through the clearing, I said to my wife: ‘Did you see Dominic Cummings there?’

“He was identical to the TV footage: dark beanie hat, dark-rimmed glasses. If it was mistaken identity, the police could have ruled that out. If Cummings had the evidence, it would be very easy for him to say: ‘Here I am in Costa coffee in London at 10am on 19 April,’ or whatever, ‘so I couldn’t have been in Houghall woods.’

“I’m not politically motivated, I have nothing against Cummings. But we think what we saw was important given the circumstances of the lockdown, and we feel that our complaint has been airbrushed.”

Clare Edwards said: “I’m certainly sure that it was Dominic Cummings.” In her statement to officers, she said she saw a man she thought to be Cummings just after 11.01am on 19 April. She said she was able to be precise after finding a timestamped geolocated photograph she took of the woods moments before seeing the man. The couple remember the date because they had a Zoom party and quiz for their son’s birthday the day before as they were not allowed to meet due to the lockdown restrictions. Clare Edwards also called on Cummings to release evidence proving he was in London at the time.

A fourth witness, who does not want to be named, is convinced that they saw Cummings and a companion between 11.15am and 11.30am that day, between Houghall woods and Cummings’ father’s property. They made a digital note of the sighting, including location data, which was shared with friends at the time. That note has been seen by the Guardian and Daily Mirror.

The witness said: “I do follow politics, so I know what people look like.” Asked whether they were sure it was Cummings, they said: “We know his parents do live locally, so we have recognised them before in the local area. I would recognise him again. At first I could not quite believe that I had seen him. I thought: ‘Why would he be up here?’ But I posted about it on the day. I was sure about it at the time.”

A No 10 spokesman said: “Durham constabulary have made clear they are not taking any further action against Mr Cummings and that by locating himself at his father’s premises he did not breach the regulations.

“The prime minister has said he believes Mr Cummings behaved reasonably and he considers the matter closed.” No 10 did not comment on specific allegations that Cummings was in Durham on 19 April.

Cummings has defended driving to his parents’ farm from London on 27 March after fearing that he and his wife were falling ill with coronavirus, to seek potential childcare for their four-year-old son. They made a 60-mile round trip to Barnard Castle on 12 April – Cummings said to test his eyesight – and drove back to London the following day.

At his press conference in the Downing Street rose garden in May, he said it was false to claim he returned to Durham again after coming back to London on 13 April. He said: “There is a particular report that I returned there on the 19 April. Photos and data on my phone prove this to be false. And local CCTV, if it exists, would also prove that I’m telling the truth that I was in London on that day. I was not in Durham.”

Cummings said witnesses who claimed they saw him in the bluebell wood on 19 April were mistaken. He said he had walked in woodland during his self-isolation period, but only on his father’s property.

At the end of May, the prime minister was challenged by the Commons liaison committee about whether he had seen the evidence. After dodging the question three times, he said he had, but refused MPs’ requests to publish the evidence or pass it to the cabinet secretary for independent scrutiny.

The Guardian asked Downing Street to provide the data to rule out a case of mistaken identity on 19 April, but it declined.

A Durham police spokesman said: “As outlined in our statement of 28 May, Durham constabulary carried out an investigation into this matter led by a senior detective and found insufficient evidence to support the allegation.”

• Additional reporting by Duncan Campbell

7 awkward details in the small print of Tories’ 30% house price discount plan

First-time buyers will be able to get 30% off their home in a major new government discount scheme.

House prices will be drastically cut on special new homes for local people, key workers and first-time buyers on new build properties – with Londoners earning up to £90,000 able to benefit.

Lizzy Buchan www.mirror.co.uk

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick unveiled the ‘First Homes’ scheme as part of a shake-up of planning rules aimed at boosting housebuilding in England.

He said it will allow “local first-time buyers to be able to settle where they have ties and raise families of their own”.

The discounts for local people will last for three months – and if the property is unsold, then first-time buyers from other parts of England will be eligible.

Deposits will be limited to 50%. And when the original buyer sells up, a covenant on the Title Deed will force them to pass on the 30% discount to the next owner.

And in areas where house prices are higher, local councils will be able to demand higher discounts of 40-50% below market value from developers, if they can prove there is a need for more affordable homes in their community.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses.

It’s not clear how many of these new homes will actually be available. It’s also not fully clear how they’ll be prioritised for key workers.

Some people on £90,000 salaries will be eligible for the scheme in London – hardly those most in need.

And there’s admission that First Homes will erode other affordable housing – including social rent.

So what are the pitfalls in the big plan? We’ve run the rule over the small print so you don’t have to.

1. People on £90,000 salaries can benefit

Londoners with incomes of up to £90,000 will be eligible for the new discount.

Outside London, the salary limit will be capped at £80,000.

The limit is on “household income” – so of course, if both members of a couple have a job, the threshold will feel much lower.

But if a family only has one worker, or the buyer is single, some people on pretty mega salaries could find themselves benefiting from the scheme.

The government appears to recognise this could be a problem. Its documents say “there may be local circumstances where lower caps are necessary”.

Councils will have the power to set salary caps lower than £80k or £90k – though they’ll only apply for the first three months the home is on the market.

Councils could also take buyers’ incomes – though not their assets – into consideration when looking at who should get first dibs on any oversubscribed scheme.

Prices of the homes themselves will be capped at £250,000 outside London and £420,000 in the capital.

2. It’ll mean fewer homes for affordable rent

Buried in the small print is a startling confession.

The government admits the scheme could chip away at other kinds of affordable homes – including those for “social rent”.

This is crucial, because many of the people who need a home most desperately can’t afford to buy. They need somewhere to rent, cheaply.

The confession emerged in an impact assessment that found there’ll be “both positive and negative” impacts on disadvantaged groups.

The positive is that they’ll get discounted home ownership, and more homes on the market.

But the negative is there would be “a reduction in the number of homes available in other affordable housing tenures, particularly social and affordable rent”.

The government decided to go for the scheme anyway, because “our analysis suggests that the reduction in the number of homes delivered in these tenures is likely to be relatively small, compared to the number of First Homes delivered.”

3. It’s not clear how key workers will get priority

The government pledged the new scheme will have “an emphasis on key workers”, like NHS staff or police. Officials added councils will be able to “prioritise” First Homes for these workers.

But the detail of the plans doesn’t actually spell out how they’ll be put to the front of the queue.

Councils will have the power to lower the salary cap to ensure key workers aren’t elbowed out by others on middle incomes.

There will, of course, be a “local connections” test.

And the prospect has been dangled of allowing key workers who aren’t first-time buyers to use the scheme for upsizing (see below).

But today’s plans contain no suggestion that non -key-workers will be barred from buying a First Home.

In other words, it appears the system will try to gear towards key workers in the way it’s designed, but there doesn’t seem to be an actual cast-iron guarantee they’ll come first.

4. Some people can get the discount even if they’re not first-time buyers

First Homes should “as a rule” only be sold to first-time buyers.

But a consultation found some people wanted the scheme to be open to “key workers” who are selling their first home and upsizing to a new place.

So the government says in “certain, limited circumstances”, people who aren’t first-time buyers will be able to benefit from the scheme.

The government will publish a list of circumstances under which non-first-time buyers can be eligible for First Homes.

That list, or who’ll be on it, is yet to be confirmed.

5. Not all buyers will need to be local

First Homes will need to be sold to people with “local connections”.

The definition of this – and how to prove you’ve got local links – will be decided by each area’s council.

But this restriction will only apply for the first three months the home is on the market.

While developers will need to show they’ve been “actively marketing” First Homes to local people, if it remains unsold, it’ll then open up more widely.

At that point, the home will become available to all first-time buyers across England at a 30% discount.

6. Buyers can let out their ‘First Homes’ for up to two years

First Home buyers will need to occupy the home as their “primary residence”.

However, they’ll then be allowed to let them out for up to two years – as long as they notify the local council.

This is designed to ensure people can move away from the area or find alternative arrangements in a rough patch.

The two-year period could be extended in certain circumstances, with the council’s permission.

These include a job posting or deployment elsewhere, a relationship breakdown, fleeing domestic violence, redundancy or caring for a relative or friend.

While these will no doubt help many people in need, the two-year clause could potentially attract others who don’t need the help as much. Buyers will also be able to let out their home short-term if they go on holiday.

7. Don’t expect lots of ‘First Homes’ in a hurry

The only firm, immediate commitment in today’s document is to a pilot of 1,500 First Homes to be delivered through the Affordable Homes Programme.

Beyond that, it’s not yet clear when developers would be compelled to start providing First Homes.

The government says “25% of all affordable housing units secured through developer contributions” on a scheme will need to be First Homes.

But this is a relatively small fraction of a scheme when you consider much of each scheme will not be “affordable”.

First Homes will initially be funded through something called Section 106 agreements, but these are being scrapped by the government. They will then be funded by a new-style levy designed to replace Section 106.