Police are appealing for help to trace two children, a woman and a man who were seen arguing in a car being driven at speed in Crawley on Saturday evening (27 December).
A Sussex Police statement says that shortly after 8.30pm two girls saw a dark-coloured people carrier turn from Northgate Road onto Peglar Way and then accelerate away from them towards the Asda store in the road.
The car was being driven by a man with short dark hair. His front seat passenger was a girl of about seven with short, curly mousy-brown hair and she was seen to scream and shout from the vehicle that the driver was a rapist.
In the back was a girl of about 10 who had long blonde hair and a second, older female who may have been an adult.
The car then turned onto High Street in the one way system and went past KFC.
It looked fairly new, had tinted rear windows, round rear lights and may have had 59 on its numberplate.
Officers searched the area after they were contacted and are currently examining CCTV footage and speaking to staff at businesses nearby to try to identify who was in the car.
Detective Inspector Andy Bennett, of West Sussex CID, said: “We need to find out who the people were in the car and need to speak to them urgently because we do not know whether they are in danger or not.
“It could be that this was a family argument and that the children were not being serious when they appeared to be shouting for help. They may not know that officers are now searching the area to try to work out who they are and where they could be.
“If it was not intended as a call for help, I would urge them to contact us so we know they are safe. They will not be in trouble - we just need to know they are ok.
“In the meantime we are treating this as a serious incident and I am appealing for anyone who might know who was in the car, or where they could be, to contact us.
“No matter how small the piece of information you have, please pass it on to us so that we can be sure the three children are safe and well.”
Anyone with information should call 101 quoting serial 1198 of 27/12, email email@example.com or contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.