Children die in police crash on way to refuge

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The Independent Online
A GIRL aged two and her four-year-old brother were killed yesterday when a police car that them to a women's refuge was involved in a three- vehicle smash.

The dead boy's twin brother was critically injured and a fourth child, aged 18 months, who was travelling in a different car, suffered head and leg injuries in the accident in Co Durham.

The injured twin, who has severe head injuries, was transferred to Newcastle General Hospital under police escort. The boy's mother was taken to hospital suffering from abdominal injuries and shock. The two children were certified dead at Dryburn Hospital in Durham city.

The crash is believed to have been triggered when a car that was travelling on the A68 near the village of Witton le Wear skidded on ice and collided with the police vehicle in the early afternoon, Durham constabulary said. The officer who was driving the panda car was trapped in the wreckage and had to be cut from the vehicle by fire-fighters, but was not seriously injured.

The accident happened after the police and Durham social service staff agreed to move a mother and her three young children to a refuge after complaints that her partner had become violent.

The family was being driven the 12 miles from their home town of Bishop Auckland to Consett when the crash happened. A police spokesman said that the panda car was involved in a collision with a Renault travelling in the opposite direction, which appeared to have skidded over the central lines. A husband and wife who were in the Renault escaped uninjured but their 18-month-old son may have broken his leg and has head injuries, although they are not thought to be life-threatening. A couple and their two-year-old son who were travelling in a hired car that was also involved in the crash escaped uninjured.

The A68, one of the main routes into Scotland, was closed for five hours while the vehicles were moved. Police have set up an investigation into the incident and will release details of the family after next-of- kin had been told. A police spokesman did not know whether the family in the police car were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.

The spokesman added: "Early indications suggest that the Renault, which was travelling south, skidded and collided with the police panda, which was on its correct side of the road and travelling in the opposite direction."

Peter Kemp, the director of Durham social services, said that his department was contacted by the police yesterday morning and asked to find a place in a shelter for the woman. "I think there was some alleged domestic violence involving her partner," he said.

A bed was located at a women's refuge in Consett but the social services did not have a car available to transfer the family so the police offered to take them instead. "We will be offering support and counselling to the mother and the serving child," added Mr Kemp.

He said that according to the council's records, the mother and her children had not previously been referred to the social services or contacted them for help.

He said it was standard practice for the police to request places in refuges in cases of alleged domestic violence, but because his staff were so busy at this time of year there were no drivers available to pick the family up from the police station in Bishop Auckland. The social service does not use a special vehicle to ferry around families.