Dominic Cummings: Widower's fury as he tells how he couldn't hold wife's hand as she died of COVID-19

John Wilson lost his wife, Pauline, to COVID-19 (@tug/Twitter)

An angry widower has told how he stayed apart from his wife who died of COVID-19 while Dominic Cummings refuses to apologise for driving 260 miles during lockdown.

In an astonishing press conference on Monday, the prime minister’s senior adviser said he did not regret making the journey from London to Durham while coronavirus travel restrictions were in place.

His insistence he behaved reasonably and Boris Johnson’s continued backing of his actions have drawn anger from those who lost loved ones to COVID-19 and still followed the government’s own social distancing rules.

Johnson’s defence of Cummings has been criticised by Church of England bishops, while scientists have warned it will lead to more coronavirus deaths.

John Wilson, from Whitchurch, Buckinghamshire, revealed on Monday he was unable to hold his wife Pauline’s hand on the day she died.

In an emotional letter to his MP, Conservative Greg Smith, Wilson wrote: “My wife died of COVID-19 in Stoke Mandeville hospital on 29 March. Hospital lockdown prevented me from seeing her for two weeks before her death.

“On the day she died I could not be with her to hold her hand, I just sat by the telephone. I was not able to see her body.

“Since then I have stayed alone in the house leaving only to collect her ashes and belongings from the undertaker, shop for food every couple of weeks, collect medication, post a parcel of condolence cards to her sister who will pass the round the rest of the family and walk for less than one hour a day.

“In other words, under severe mental and emotional distress I, like the vast majority of the population, have complied with your government’s instructions in order to protect my fellow citizens.”

Referencing Johnson’s defence of Cummings on Sunday, Wilson wrote: “I will spare you my opinion of the actions of the leader of your party yesterday.

“Please spare me the deepest sympathy/thoughts and prayers stuff – we are beyond that after yesterday.”

On Tuesday, Wilson said his letter had been viewed more than eight million times.

Wilson, a retired computer engineer, and his wife had been married for almost 48 years.

He tweeted in February that she was waiting for surgery in John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford after breaking her hip.

On 27 March he said his “astonishing” wife had called him from hospital, saying she “sounds better than she has all day”.

But he was told less than 24 hours later that she had died.

On 29 March, he wrote on Twitter: “My dear Pauline has just passed away. I was not able to be with her. She had a hand to hold and was in no pain which is a comfort.”

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On Monday, he wrote: “Just a little clarification about my letter. It's not about what Cummings did or didn't do. My MP has no power to do anything about that. As a member of the 1922 committee he does have power to do something about Johnson.”

In an extraordinary press conference on Monday in the Rose Garden at Downing Street, Cummings repeatedly refused to apologise for his actions.

He said he made the trip to his parents’ property in Durham because of fears he and his wife would not be able to look after their four-year-old son.

Cummings said his wife, the journalist Mary Wakefield, fell ill on 27 March, leading him to swiftly leave Number 10 to return home.

After a couple of hours, she felt better and Cummings went back to Downing Street. But that evening the family drove to Durham, with Cummings saying there was "nobody in London we could reasonably ask to look after our child".

Dominic Cummings, senior aide to prime minister Boris Johnson, gave an extraordinary press conference in the Rose Garden at 10 Downing Street on Monday. (PA)
A protester outside the north London home of Dominic Cummings on Monday evening (PA)

While in Durham, Cummings claimed he took his wife and child on a 25-mile drive to nearby Barnard Castle to check if his eyesight was good enough to travel back to London.

In the hour-long press conference, he declined to apologise for his actions, but conceded that "reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in the circumstances".

A spokesman for the Labour Party said: "The British people were looking for at least an apology from Dominic Cummings for breaking the lockdown. They got none.

"Millions of people have made extraordinary sacrifices during the lockdown. Families have been forced apart, sometimes in the most tragic of circumstances. They stayed at home to protect the NHS and save lives.

"And yet, the message from this government is clear: it's one rule for Boris Johnson's closest adviser, another for everybody else."

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