Mother accused of murdering her three children was 'really battling' to cope
Tania Clarence was a full time carer for her three children, who were severely disabled and not expected to live beyond the age of five
Published 24/04/2014 | 13:59
A mother suspected of murdering her three severely disabled children struggled to care for her family and hadn’t had a decent nights sleep in years, friends have said.
Tania Clarence, 42, is being questioned by police after her three-year-old twin sons, Ben and Max, and four year-old daughter, Olivia, were found dead at their £2 million home in New Malden, south west London, on Tuesday night.
Their father, Gary, an investment banker, was on holiday in the family's native South Africa with the couple's eight-year-old daughter when the deaths occurred.
The dead children were all understood to be suffering from the genetic condition, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), and were not expected to live beyond then age of five.
The inherited disease, which is also known as floppy baby syndrome, leaves children with little or no control of their movements.
The children needed feeding tubes, a friend said, and while they employed a carer and a home help they did not have round the clock care as they wanted a normal family life.
A friend told the South African website Times Live: "They had the one child, their second child, who was young, only a few months old, when she fell pregnant (with the twins). It was not planned, but they felt they could cope.
"While she was pregnant, the second child was diagnosed as having SMA. The twins were then born premature and they stayed in hospital for a long time. The (parents) then asked for the twins to be tested for SMA as well.
"She came home with three kids severely disabled.
"Everything was regulated, everything they ate diarised. I bet Tania had not had a decent night's sleep in a few years."
The family, who had lived in the UK for more than a decade, moved to the New Malden area last year and had spent several months and around £1 million adapting their home to cater for their disabled children’s needs.
Neighbours described the Mr and Mrs Clarence as a “loving and close couple” who did everything for their children.
Those diagnosed with SMA suffer from muscle wasting and often die as a result of breathing problems.
"They tried to have a normal family life in the evening, by not having a house full of carers. Tania's borne the brunt (of it). Gary is a businessman and had to (travel),” the friend said.
"Everybody who met her could not but be compassionate. Most would think 'There but for the grace of God go I'.
"Everybody complains about their kids but at least they're healthy. It just puts your life into perspective."
A spokesman for the family told the Cape Argus that Mr Clarence was in "absolute shock" at the tragedy.
Lloyd Marshall also confirmed that the three children all suffered from the life-limiting genetic disease.
He said that, after the four-year-old was diagnosed with the condition, it was "50-50" as to whether the twins would also have it.
"Unfortunately, they did as well," he said.
He added: "Gary is in absolutely a state of shock – the whole family is. He never would have left the UK if he'd known (his wife) would be left really battling.
"Most of the family are on their way to the UK."
The family are still in mourning following the death of Mr Clarence's father, Brian, last October, the newspaper reported.
Described as a "pioneering entrepreneur", he founded the biggest hotel-conference centre in Southern Africa, the Birchwood Hotel and OR Tambo Conference Centre, which has 665 bedrooms and 60 conference rooms, the newspaper reported.
Mr Clarence's family, including his mother, Anne, and sister, Derri Phillips, are understood to have flown to the UK to support him.
Police said they are still holding Mrs Clarence, who cared full-time for her children at their home in Thetford Road, New Malden, at a police station.
Post-mortem examinations into the deaths of the three children are due to be held at Great Ormond Street this afternoon, a Scotland Yard spokesman said.
“The murder investigation continues and a woman, aged 42, remains in custody,” the spokesperson said.
It is understood police were called to the address by a relative who had become concerned after being unable to contact Mrs Clarence for 24 hours.
Mr Clarence qualified as a solicitor before moving into finance and had worked at the City bank Investec for 12 years where he was head of health care.