VILLAGERS came together yesterday to pray for a father and two children left fighting for their lives after a head-on car crash.

A 45-year-old man, his ten-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter were critically injured in the crash on the A688 at Staindrop, near Barnard Castle, County Durham, on Saturday morning.

The family, from the nearby village of Butterknowle, were in a silver Rover involved in a head-on collision with a black Vauxhall Corsa at 9.50am.

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Both children suffered serious head injuries and were airlifted to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, in Newcastle. Their father suffered serious abdominal injuries and was taken to The James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough.

Last night, all three remained critically ill.

The driver of the Corsa, a 78-year-old woman from the Sunderland area, fractured her spine and was taken to Darlington Memorial Hospital.

Her injuries are not believed to be life threatening.

Police have not officially named the casualties, but in Butterknowle the news spread fast.

A songs of praise service at St John’s Church in the nearby village of Lynesack yesterday was packed with people wishing to pray for t3he children and their father.

They included pupils from Butterknowle Primary School, where the injured children go to school, and headteacher Paul Ruane.

“The family was very much on everyone’s mind,” said the Reverend Jane Grieve, who led the service.

“It is only a small school and a small village, and they are well known and liked within the community.

“The thoughts of the whole village are with them and also with their mum and older sister during this difficult time.”

She added: “It is so sad to think the children are in a different hospital to their father.”

A family friend told The Northern Echo: “The whole community is talking in hushed tones as we are all sat with breath held and in quiet prayer.”

Customers at the Diamond Inn, in Butterknowle, also expressed their concern for the family.

“I was devastated when I heard the news on the radio,” said one woman. “I just hope they pull through.”

Three air ambulances attended the scene of the accident, near Raby Castle, along with police, fire and ambulance services.

The boy and his father were freed from the wreckage by firefighters, while the girl was released by paramedics before the fire crews arrived.

Both children had to be anaesthetised by a Great North Air Ambulance doctor.

The cars were travelling in opposite directions when the accident occurred, about 300 yards from Burnt Houses Lane. Police closed the road while initial investigations were carried out.

Anyone who witnessed the accident or who saw either vehicle beforehand is asked to contact PC Andy Wilson on 101 or the collision investigation unit on 0191-375-2159.