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“Good afternoon, thank you for coming. Yesterday I gave a full account to the Prime Minister of my actions between 27th of March and 14th of April, of what I thought and did. He has asked me to repeat that account directly to you. I know millions of people in this country have been suffering, thousands have died, many are angry about what they have seen in the media about my actions. I want to clear up the confusions and misunderstandings that I can.
In retrospect I should have made the statement earlier. It’s many years since I have said anything on television but I will do my best to answer questions after I have explained what happened. I also should clarify I’m not here to speak on behalf of the Government or the Prime Minister.
I’m explaining my own actions and my own thinking. The Prime Minister is giving a press conference later and he will answer questions concerning Government policy.
Around midnight on Thursday 26th of March I spoke to the Prime Minister, he told me he had tested positive for Covid. We discussed the national emergency arrangements for Number Ten given his isolation and what I would do in Number Ten the next day.
The next morning I went to work as usual. I was in a succession of meetings about this emergency. I suddenly got a call from my wife who was at home looking after our four-year-old child. She told me she felt badly ill, she had vomited and felt she might pass out and there will be nobody to look after our child. None of our usual childcare options were available, they were alone in the house.
After briefly telling some officials in Number Ten what had happened, I immediately left the building, ran to my car and drove home. This was reported by the media at the time who saw me run out of Number Ten. After a couple of hours my wife felt a little better.
There were many critical things at work and she urged me to return in the afternoon, and I did.
That evening I returned home and discussed the situation with my wife. She was ill, she might have Covid, though she did not have a cough or a fever. At this point most of those who I work with most closely, including the Prime Minister himself, and others who sit within fifteen feet of me every day either had had symptoms and returned to work or absent with symptoms. I thought there was a distinct probability that I had already caught the disease. I had a few conflicting thoughts in my mind.
First I was worried that if my wife and I were both seriously ill, possibly hospitalised, there was nobody in London we could reasonably ask to look after our child and expose themselves to Covid. My wife had felt on the edge of not being able to look after him safely a few hours earlier. I was thinking what if the same or worse happens to me because there is nobody here I can reasonably ask to help. The regulations may clear I believe that risks to the health of a small child are an exceptional situation, and I had a way of dealing with this that minimised the risk to others.
Second, I thought that if I did not develop symptoms that I might be able to return to work to help deal with the crisis. There were ongoing discussions about testing government staff in order to keep people like me working rather than isolating. At this point on the Friday advisers such as myself had not been included in a list of who were tested. But it was possible this might change the following week. Therefore, I thought that after testing negative I could continue working. In fact this did not change and special advisers were not tested, and I have never been tested.
Third, there have been numerous false stories in the media about my actions and statements regarding Covid, in particular there were stories suggesting I had opposed lockdown and even then I do not care about many deaths. For years I have warned about the dangers of pandemics, last year I wrote about the possible threat of coronaviruses and the urgent need for planning. The truth is I had argued for lockdown, I did not oppose it.
These stories have created a very bad atmosphere around my home. I was subjected to threats of violence, people came to my house shouting threats, there were posts on social media encouraging attacks, many media reports on television showing pictures of my house. I was also worried that given the severity of this emergency, this situation would get worse and I was worried about the possibility of leaving my wife and child at home all day and often into the night while I worked in Number Ten. I thought the best thing to do in all the circumstances was to drive to an isolated cottage on my Father’s farm.
At this farm, my parents live in one house, my sister and her children live in another house and there was a separate cottage roughly fifty metres away from either of them. My tentative conclusion on the Friday evening was this, if we are both unable to look after my child, my sister and nieces can look after him. My nieces are 17 and 20, they are old enough to look after him but also young enough to be in the safest category and had kindly volunteered to do so if needed. But I thought, if I do not develop symptoms and there is a testing regime in place at work, I could return to work if I tested negative. In that situation I could leave my wife and child behind in a safe place, safe in the form support from family for shopping and emergencies, safe in the sense of being away from our home which had become a target, and safe from everybody else because they were completely isolated on the farm and could not infect anybody.
Contrary to some media reports, there are no neighbours in the normal sense of the word, the nearest homes are roughly half a mile away so in this scenario I thought they could stay there for a few weeks, I could go back to work, help colleagues, and everybody including the general public would be safe. I did not ask the Prime Minister about this decision. He was ill himself and he had huge problems to deal with.
Every day I have to exercise my judgment about things like this and decide what to discuss with him. I thought I would speak to him when the situation clarified over the coming days, including whether I had symptoms and whether there were tests available. Arguably this was a mistake and I understand some would say I should have spoken to the Prime Minister before deciding what to do.
So I drove the three of us up to Durham that night, arriving roughly at midnight. I did not stop on the way. When I woke the next morning, Saturday 28th of March, I was in pain and clearly had Covid symptoms including a bad headache and a serious fever. Clearly I could not return to work any time soon. For a day or two we were both ill, I was in bed, my wife was ill but not ill enough that she needed emergency help. I got worse, she got better.
During the night of the Thursday 2nd of April, my child woke up, he threw up and had a bad fever. He was very distressed. We took medical advice, which was to call 999. An ambulance was sent, they assessed my child and said he must go to hospital. I could barely stand up, my wife went with him in the ambulance, I stayed at home, he stayed the night in the hospital. In the morning my wife called to say he had recovered, seemed back to normal, doctors had tested him for Covid and said they should return home. There were no taxis.
I drove to the hospital, picked them up and returned home. I did not leave the car or have any contact with anybody at any point on this short trip. The hospital is, I don’t know what, roughly five miles away, two miles, three miles, four miles, something like that.
A few days later the hospital said he had tested negative. After I started recover, one day in the second week I tried to walk outside the house. At one point the three of us walked into woods owned by my father next to the cottage I was staying in. Some people saw us in these woods from the distance but we had no interaction with them. We had not left the property. We were on private land.
By Saturday 11th of April I was still feeling weak and exhausted but other than that I had no Covid symptoms. I thought I would be able to return to work the following week, possibly part-time. It was obvious the situation was extremely serious.
The Prime Minister was gravely ill, colleagues were dealing with huge problems, and many were ill and isolating. I felt like I ought to return to work if possible given that I was now recovering in order to relieve the intense strain at Number Ten.
On the Saturday, I sought expert medical advice. I explained our family’s symptoms and all the timings and asked if it was safe to return to work on Monday, Tuesday, seek child care and so on. I was told it was safe and I could return to work and seek child care.
On Sunday 12th of April, 15 days after I first displayed symptoms, I decided to return to work. My wife was very worried, particularly given my eyesight seem to have been affected by the disease. She did not want to risk the nearly 300 mile Drive with our child given how ill I had been. We agreed we should go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely. We drove our roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town.
We did not visit the castle. We did not walk around the town. We parked by a river, my wife and I discussed the situation, we agreed we should turn around and go home. I felt a bit sick. We walked ten to 15 metres from the car to the river bank nearby, we sat there for about 15 minutes, we had no interactions with anybody. I felt better, we returned to the car. An elderly gentleman walking nearby appeared to recognise me. My wife wished him happy Easter from a distance but we had no other interaction. We headed home.
On the way home our child needed the toilet, he was in the back-seat of the car. We pulled over to the side of the road, my wife and child jumped out into the woods by the side of the road. They were briefly outside. I briefly joined them, they played for a little bit and then I got out of the car, went outside, we were briefly in the woods. We saw some people at a distance but at no point did we break any social distancing rules.
We then got back in the car and went home. We agreed that if I continue to improve, the next day we should return to London and I would go back to work. We returned to London on the evening of Monday, April 13, Easter Monday. I went back to work in Number Ten the next morning. At no point between arriving or leaving Durham did any of the three of us enter my parent’ house or my sister’s house.
Our only exchanges were shouted conversations at a distance. My sister shopped for us and left everything outside. In the last few days there have been many media reports I returned to Durham after the 13th of April, all these stories are false. There is a particular report I returned there on the 19th of April. Photos and data on my phone prove this to be false, and local CCTV if it exists will also prove I’m telling the truth that I was in London that day, I was not in Durham. During this two week period, my mother’s brother died with Covid.
There are media reports this had some influence on my behaviour, these reports are false. This private matter did not affect my movements. None of us saw him, none of us attended his funeral. In this very complex situation, I decided to exercise my judgment the best I could. I believe in all circumstances I behaved reasonably and legally, balancing the safety of my family and the extreme situation at Number Ten and the public interest of an effective government to which I could contribute. I was involved in decisions involving millions of people I thought I should try to help as much as I could do. I can understand some people will argue I should have stayed at my home in London throughout. I understand these views, I know the intense hardship and sacrifice the entire country has had to go through.
However, I respectfully disagree. The legal rules inevitably do not cover all circumstances, including those I found myself in. I thought and I think today that the rules, including those regarding small children and extreme circumstances, allowed me to exercise my judgment about the situation I found myself in, including the way my London home had become a target and all the complexity of the situation.
I accept of course there is room for reasonable disagreement about this. I can also understand some people think I should not have driven at all anywhere, but I had taken expert medical advice. It was 15 days after symptoms. I had been told I could return to work and employ childcare. I think it was reasonable and sensible to make a short journey before embarking on a five-hour drive to see if I was in a fit state to do this.
The alternative was to stay in Durham rather than going back to work and contributing to the Government’s efforts. I believe I made the right judgment, though I can understand that others may disagree with that. I explained all of the above to the Prime Minister.
At some point during the first week when we were both sick and in bed, I mentioned to him what I had done and unsurprisingly, given the condition we were in, neither of us remember the conversation in any detail. I did not make my movements public at the time because my London home was already a target, I do not believe that I was obliged to make my parents and sisters home a target for harassment as well.
I understand millions of people have seen media coverage of this issue and I know that millions have endured awful hardship, including personal tragedies over the last few months, and people are suffering every day.
I know the British people hate the idea of unfairness. I wanted to explain what I thought, what I did and why over this period because I think people like me who helped to make the rules should be accountable for their actions. I am happy to answer questions from the media, who are here.