Two Mercy Order nuns killed after crash with police car in North
Two elderly nuns have been killed in a car crash involving a police car in Northern Ireland.
The women, who were from Belfast, had been travelling to a retreat near Newry, Co Down, when the accident happened.
Their names and details of their religious order have not yet been released.
Father Eddie Magee, a spokesman for the Diocese of Down and Connor, said the community had been left stunned by the tragedy.
He said: "The diocese extends its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the two Sisters. This sudden and shocking accident has had a devastating impact not only on those who had known the Sisters but on the wider community."
The accident happened on the Belfast Road near the Derrycraw Road junction just before 9.30am this morning.
The nuns, who were in a silver Renault Clio had been making their way to Dromantine College Retreat and Conference Centre on the Glen Road, Newry, when the crash happened.
Three male police officers travelling in an unmarked silver Mitsubishi were not seriously hurt.
The Police Ombudsman's office (Poni) has launched an investigation into the circumstances of the accident and has sent a team to the scene.
A spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said: "As is normal procedure, Poni have been informed and will now lead this investigation."
The road A1 - the main arterial route between Belfast and Newry - has been closed in both directions between the Outlet shopping centre at Banbridge and Sheepbridge Road.
Screens have also been erected at houses overlooking the scene as police and ombudsman investigators carry out a meticulous examination using cameras and specialist scanners.
SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley drove past the accident on his way to the Stormont Assembly meeting this morning.
He said fire crews were using cutting equipment on a small silver-coloured hatchback car.
Mr Bradley said: "I would like to send my sympathy to the families and the religious community. It is a tragedy."
South Down MLA Karen McKevitt said the junction was notorious.
She said: "I was shocked and devastated to hear the news this morning that two nuns have died in a car accident on the A1 near Beech Hill. This is tragic news that has deeply shaken the local community.
"This junction is notoriously dangerous and has been the scene of previous road fatalities. I have lobbied Roads Service on numerous occasions to have measures put in place to improve safety but unfortunately it has now claimed more lives."
Sinn Fein Mayor of Newry Daire Hughes said the community had been left stunned by the nuns' deaths.
He said: "The thoughts and prayers of the Newry and Mourne community are with the families and friends of those who have sadly lost their lives today.
"We also keep in our prayers all those involved in this incident. This is a tragic reminder of just how vulnerable we can all be when out on our roads."
Both vehicles remain at the scene but are expected to be removed for forensic examination before the onset of the evening rush hour.
Adrian McAllister, chief executive with the Police Ombudsman's office visited the crash site. He said: "These are very tragic circumstances in which two people have lost their lives.
"There is an appeal for witnesses. It was a very busy dual carriageway at that time of the morning and some people may have seen what happened but were not in a position to stop. I would urge them to make contact with the ombudsman's office over the next 48 hours."
Mr McAllister confirmed the ombudsman's office was now leading the investigation and had carried out house-to-house inquiries. He also said the three police officers involved in the accident would be spoken to in due course.
It is standard procedure for the Ombudsman's office to investigate where a member of the public has died in an incident where police are involved.