DURHAM’S former chief constable Mike Barton said he believes the force statement used the word “might” in relation to Dominic Cummings breaking the regulations as the police could not be seen to be acting as judge and jury.

He was reacting to the force's statement released today, saying Mr Cummings might have committed "a minor breach" of lockdown rules when he drove to Barnard Castle but will face no further action, according to Durham police.

Mr Barton said: “It seems to me that any reasonable observer would see that Mr Cummings has not only broken the spirit of the rules, but also the letter.

“This is not Durham in the dock – they are still trying to deal with a national emergency – and this will have been an unwelcome distraction and one they have now dealt with, and they would want the public in the North East to observe the rules, unlike Mr Cummings.”

Explaining why he believed the force used the word “might” in its statement, he said: “The police do not want to have been the judge and jury in this, not having interviewed him under caution.

“They make it clear, this is something of a minor matter in the grand scheme of things, which it is, should he not have been at the centre of the legislation.”

Legal minds have been poring over Durham Constabulary’s statement on the movements of the Prime Minister’s chief adviser during his lockdown trips out of London.

Raj Chada, head of the criminal defence department and a partner at firm Hodge Jones & Allen, told the PA news agency: “The police should not be there to decide one way or another whether he actually breached the rules, in this case that could be for the courts to decide, so I interpret this statement as them saying that there is enough evidence to say that he breached the rules (but ultimately for court to decide) but that it is not in public interest to prosecute for the reasons that they say.”

David Allen Green, a writer and commentator on law and policy, said the use of “might” in the statement means police would have “considered that there was a breach”, in order to have been in position to tell him to turn back to Durham, had he been stopped.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “It would not be for the police officer to determine criminal liability: that is a matter for the court.”