A YOUNG mother has disappeared on a European holiday - leaving her three young children at home with a 15-year-old babysitter.

Police and social services raided a house on an estate in Darlington on Tuesday after a neighbour reported the three children had been left in the care of an older girl.

The children, two girls aged four and two and an 11-month-old boy, were immediately taken into care and have now been placed with relatives.

It is believed their mother went on holiday to Turkey with a friend earlier this week and is due back this weekend.

Police and Darlington Borough Council said yesterday they would be talking to her "as soon as she returns to the country" as part of a joint investigation.

She could face neglect charges if police find that there is evidence against her.

Police said yesterday cases such as this were very unusual, though not unheard of, and their primary concern was for the welfare of the children.

They were discovered in a house, not believed to be their home, in Bramall Lane on the Red Hall estate, on the eastern outskirts of Darlington, where they were being cared for by a 15-year-old girl, who is not a relative. It is believed the baby-sitter lives nearby.

Yesterday, news of the mother's disappearance had spread across the close-knit estate. Neighbours said they were not surprised by the mother's actions.

It is believed she has travelled to Turkey with a friend, who lives at the address where the children were found.

Neighbours said they believed the mother lives elsewhere on the Red Hall estate. Police have not named the family involved.

One woman said: "Everyone on the estate's been talking about it.

"We saw one of the girls being taken away, screaming for her mum."

A spokesman for Durham Police said: "Police in Darlington were contacted by the town's social services department on Tuesday this week, after a member of the public raised concerns over the welfare of three young children.

"Accompanied by social workers, officers visited a house on the Red Hall estate later that day.

"The three children seemed fit and well but had apparently been left in the care of a 15-year-old girl, who was not a member of the family.

"She told the officers and social workers that the children's mother had gone on holiday to Turkey, and was not expected back until later this month.

The children's immediate welfare is now in the hands of social services.

"A joint investigation is being carried out by social services and officers from the vulnerability unit at Darlington police station into possible neglect issues."

A spokesman for Darlington Borough Council said: "As soon as we heard about this we responded immediately, along with the police.

"The children were taken into care initially and then placed with relatives as soon as possible.

"We expect the mother to be back on Sunday and we will be talking to her when she comes back."

The spokesman said it was to early to tell whether the children would be returned to their mother.

The house, a grey-coloured end terrace in the centre of the Red Hall estate was empty yesterday and neighbours were milling about the area with their children. Neighbours said the house had been recently vandalised.