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Mon 28 September 2020
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Otto English shares a personal story of tragedy during the lockdown which was unfolding at the same time as Dominic Cummings was conducting his Barnard Castle eye test.

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My family loves Easter Sunday. It marks the start of spring and who doesn’t like a party? This year, the visits from favourite relatives and friends were off, but the four of us decided we’d try to carry on as normal. Chocolate was acquired, wine purchased, legs of lamb prepared and on that bright Sunday morning, with not a plane above us in the blue London sky, we all felt rather upbeat – despite the lockdown. 

This was a welcome diversion from the encroaching pandemic and the new and very necessary restrictions on our freedom of movement. 

At around 10 am, my wife decided to FaceTime her Dad, who was self-isolating at his home in Dorset to wish him Happy Easter. As soon as she got through, it was clear that something was wrong.

He said he’d had a little slip on the stairs, nothing to worry about – “you carry on dear” – but she instinctively knew something was out of the ordinary. Her brother and sister-in-law who live next door to him acted swiftly. An ambulance was called, a stroke suspected and soon my father-in-law was on his way to hospital. Because of lockdown rules, my brother-in-law couldn’t accompany him and that inability to hold his hand when he needed it most, was the first of much sadness to come. 

COVID-19 was ravaging Britain and this was how things were. Nobody liked it, but everyone knew – or my family did at least – that we simply had to accept it.


The next few days were a kind of living hell for my wife. Unable to travel to Dorset to see her Dad, unable to meet friends for solace and comfort, or even find the basic head-space you might normally get in a country walk far from the maddening crowds of London, she waited in growing dread for the inevitable phone call.

Several times she declared that she was “just going to go and say goodbye” and I had to reason with her. It was irresponsible to even contemplate the idea, not least because by us driving to Dorset – and there was no way I’d let her go alone – it meant we would risk catching the illness and then put our own or the lives of others at risk, including our two kids. She knew that, but it was incredibly, heartbreaking and difficult to accept.

So we sat it out. A few days later the phone started buzzing and the sad news came. Even though it was anticipated, it didn’t make matters better. My wife couldn’t follow her instincts. She couldn’t just hop in the car and be with her brother and see her Dad. Those basic things were not possible. 

Nor was any celebration of this lovely guy and his 80-plus years of life. The subsequent funeral was attended by the crematorium staff and no one else. 

Our story is in no way unique. Since lockdown was declared on 23 March, tens of thousands of people have suffered the agony of not being able to to visit sick or elderly relatives in care homes or hospitals. There have been no opportunities to say goodbye to the people who have mattered; no chance to say “I love you” one last time.

Most people, including my wife and her brother, put up with this even though it went against every instinct. They appreciated that this was the way things were and accepted it because it was for the greater good. Stay at home. Stop the spread. Protect the NHS. Save lives. This was a sacrifice that had to be made, however hard it might be. Collective endeavour was needed to get through this mendacious virus. We all had a part to play, however difficult.

And yet, it seems, not everyone got the message – even the very people who wrote it.


That same Sunday – as my wife waited anxiously by the phone as her Dad was rushed to hospital – Dominic Cummings, his wife and his four-year-old child were going for a nice country jaunt to Barnard Castle. 

Mary Wakefield was apparently concerned that her husband’s eyesight had been affected by his bout of COVID-19, so the family piled into the car to take a 60-mile round trip to a beauty spot to assess his vision.

Quite apart from the danger such an experiment posed to themselves and other drivers, they shouldn’t have been in County Durham in the first place. Putting his own Government’s advice aside, the Prime Minister’s chief advisor had previously driven almost 300 miles from their home in London to a cottage on Cummings’ family farm when his wife came down with symptoms.

In his narcissistic press conference in the Downing Street rose garden, Boris Johnson’s most trusted man insisted he had done so with a conveniently full tank of petrol in his car. He had not broken any rules. He had no regrets and no apologies to make. He was simply doing right by his family. How dare anyone question his integrity. 

Since then, wretched MPs and other sycophantic apologists, desperate for Cummings’ approval, have crept out of the woodwork to defend him. ‘He did the right thing’ they say. ‘He was protecting his child’ and ‘doing what any father would do’. The drive to Durham, the day trip to the castle, the walk by the lake, the stroll in the woods – the blatant, flagrant breaches of the very rules he and Johnson set was, well, all above board. Any suggestion otherwise is a plot by Remainers, lefties and the media to discredit him because they don’t like Brexit.

My respect for the shambles of venal egotists running this country is a matter of record for anyone who reads my work. But even I have been shocked by this wholesale denigration of truth and by this naked contempt for the 65 million of us who tried to follow the rules, despite personal hardships and private tragedies.  

The curtain is back now. Cummings is revealed as the very definition of an unelected, unprincipled elitist; a man who believes he has some Dom-given right to lord it over the rest of us. His continued presence in the corridors of power and Johnson’s refusal to sack him is a slap in the face to us all.   


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