THREE people died and another person was critically injured after a rally car plunged into a group of spectators.

The vehicle was heading over a humped back bridge on the narrow country road when it lost control and flew into the air before plunged into the watching public.

Three people - Iain John Provan (64) and Elizabeth Allan (63), both from Barrhead, along with 71-year-old John Leonard Stern (known as Len) from Bearsden - were pronounced dead at the scene while a fourth person was taken by air ambulance to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

The tragedy at around 4pm at Little Swinton near Coldstream, on an unclassified road known locally as Swinton House Road resulted in the cancellation of the Jim Clark Rally in the Borders.

A 61 year old man who was also injured in this collision is in a stable condition at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, while a 61 year old man who was injured in the earlier collision near Eccles, is in a critical but stable condition at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Both crash scenes were sealed off by Police Scotland yesterday as investigations took place.

A villager from Swinton, said: "From what I was told the car was heading over the bridge at speed and just took off. It landed among a group of spectators and it was just pandemonium.

"Ambulances and police vehicle sirens have been flashing around the village for most of the evening. It is a terrible tragedy.

"The Jim Clark Rally brings spectators from all over Britain and is a very popular event and the organisers will be devastated." Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont said:"This is tragic news for the Borders, and my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. I know that the Rally organisers place considerable emphasis on the safety of the spectators and drivers but with any event of this nature, there will always be an element of risk.

“I live just a few miles away from the scene of the accident and I know that everyone is shocked and saddened by this dreadful news.” The annual rally has been on the go since 1970 and takes place over three days on closed roads in the Duns and Kelso areas of the Borders.

The camp site at Springwood Park in Kelso is normally packed but after yesterday's announcement the event was cancelled many people simply packed up their tents and headed home. A special bar for campers was dismantled.

A steward said:"It has come over our radios to refer all inquiries to Police Scotland. Some people are staying but a lot are going home." One eyewitness, Tony Cowan, said: "It was just one car which lost control. It went sideways one way and then to the other side of the road and ploughed into four people.

"It was terrible, absolutely terrible. I ran to help but there was little I could do. The air ambulance arrived after about three quarters of an hour. There were police cars and ambulances. It was chaos, just chaos." At a hastily arranged press conference at Scottish Borders Council's headquarters in Newtown St Boswells late on Saturday night it emerged the victims were two males and a female with another man fighting for his life in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Police Scotland said they were unable to give any details of the fatalities including where they came from.

They added that of the five people injured in the first incident, one man was in intensive care at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Superintendent Phil O'Kane said the decision to abandon this year's rally was taken after discussions with the organisers and had been fully supported.

He explained that the Jim Clark Rally was a unique event covered by an Act of Parliament and all safety considerations were the responsibility of the organsing committee.

Superintendent O'Kane said: "I would like to start off by expressing the condolences of Police Scotland, Scottish Borders Council and the organisers of the Jim Clark Rally for the tragic circumstances that bring us here. It has resulted in tyhree deceased persons and are thoughts and sympathies are with the familiers of the deceased.

"I would like to clarify what has happened. At approximately 14.05 hours during the Eccles stage class at Crosshall Farm, there was an accident involving a vehicle coming off the road and striking five persons- one female and four males.

"As a consequence, one male is in intensive care after being transferred to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, two males suffered fractures and are in Borders General Hospital, one female had a minor injury and has been discharged and one male had a minor injury and was discharged.

"Later on this afternoon at 16.07 hours at Little Swinton there was another accident. Again it involved a car leaving the road and striking four of the spectators - three of these persons are now deceased.

"I can say at this time Police Scotland launched a multi-agency response for this incident along with Scottish Borders Council and the organising committee from the Jim Clark Rally so that investigations can be held into what went wrong." Superintedent OKane said a full investigation would be held and any decision for a fatal accident inquiry would be taken by the Crown Office. He said that after the first accident at Eccles the decision had been taken to suspend that part of the rally at that time.

But it was after the second crash involving the fatalities that the whole event was abandoned.

Superintedent O'Kane said full consideration was given to the safety of spectators by the organisers but could not say whether they were standing in a cordoned area.

The Jim Clark Rally takes place over three days near the Scottish Borders towns of Kelso and Duns and includes the BRC Rally, National, Clubman, Historic, Reivers and Landrover rallies and this year had an entry of 250 crews.

In 2011, a spectator was airlifted to hospital after being struck by a car while watching the rally. The 36-year-old was hit by a driver who lost control of their vehicle and went onto the grass.

It is held in honour of the Scottish former Formula 1 champion, Jim Clark, who died in a motor racing accident in Hockenheim, Germany in 1968.

The event is organised and managed by amateur rally enthusiasts from car clubs across Scotland northern England.

Before it was cancelled the event over two days and one evening was due to have 26 Special Stages totalling 197.6 miles.