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'Doting mother' arrested on suspicion of murdering her three disabled children in south London

Tania Clarence, 42, was the full-time carer for her children, who suffered a crippling genetic condition

By Paul Peachey

A doting mother who provided around-the-clock care for her three severely disabled children was being questioned by police today on suspicion of murdering them while alone together at their home.

The children, a girl aged four and twin boys aged three, were suffering from a genetic muscle-wasting disease that meant they were likely to spend their short lives in wheelchairs.

Their mother, named locally as Tania Clarence, 42, was the full-time carer for the children, but had been under immense pressure looking after children who had been struggling to sleep, according to acquaintances.

Mrs Clarence and her banker husband, Gary, had an older daughter, aged seven, and had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on converting their semi-detached five-bedroom home in an upmarket part of south London to allow wheelchair access for the children including a lift.

The older daughter showed no signs of the condition, thought to be spinal muscular atrophy, which can lead to fatal breathing problems during childhood.

The couple had been unaware that they were both carriers of the genetic disorder until Mrs Clarence was pregnant with the twin boys, according to a source with knowledge of the family. They only had tests after they had concerns about their second daughter’s development.

Mr Clarence was believed to have been in the couple’s native South Africa with their oldest daughter at the time of the children’s deaths. He was believed to be flying home last night and specialist detectives were speaking with other members of the family.

Neighbours yesterday praised the “lovely” family who doted on their children. "They are a delightful couple, they seemed to be very happy,” said Joy Devis, a retired nurse. “Their children were super, lovely children. They were very happy, there was a very nice atmosphere there."

The family received support from social services but friends last night raised questions over the level of help.

Mrs Clarence had told friends that the attitude from the council had been “judgemental” and officials took the attitude that she should “get on with it and pull herself together”.

“Her life consisted of keeping very complex medical records and administering treatment on an hourly basis,” said the source. “Because of their condition, they were not sleeping very well and there was a lot of unrest all the time. She was coping incredibly well; brilliantly. She was very level-headed and very together.”

It had been suggested to Mrs Clarence that she sought full-time residential care for the children. “There’s no way I can do that, I will see it through,” she told an acquaintance.

Kingston Council said it was looking into contacts with the family. “We are deeply saddened to hear of the deaths of three children from New Malden,” said a spokesman. “Our thoughts and sympathy are with the family. We are unable to make any further comment at this time as this is an ongoing police investigation.”

Mrs Clarence had successfully lobbied her local councillor to improve the pavement outside their home to allow for wheelchair access for her daughter. Councillor Kenneth Smith said that she obviously cared very much for her children. “She came across as a very caring type of parent”.

In a thank-you email to Councillor Smith, Mrs Clarence wrote: “I just wanted to say a big thank you for the time and effort you put in. We appreciate it more than words can say. The new pavement is not only perfect for the wheelchair but looks fabulous. Thanks so much again.”

Spinal muscular atrophy causes muscle weakness and progressive loss of movement owing to deterioration in nerve cells connecting the brain and spinal cord to the body’s muscles, according to the NHS website. The two most severe types – which affect babies under 18 months – lead to childhood fatalities in most cases. The most common form stems from a genetic problem copied from each parent. There is no cure.

Police confirmed that they were called by someone worried about the welfare of the family on Tuesday evening and found the three children found dead at the house.

The 42-year-old woman was taken to hospital with minor injuries and discharged. She was arrested and was being questioned at a London police station. Police said they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the killings.

Her husband Gary worked as a director at City bank Investec, where he specialises in healthcare and leads a team advising clients on buying and selling companies, raising money and strategic reviews, according to its website.

"Gary Clarence is a valued colleague and has worked with us for many years,” the bank said in a statement. “We do not know the facts at this time but our thoughts are with the Clarence family. We are doing all that we can to help Gary and his eldest child and ask that their privacy is respected."

Teddy bears, bouquets of flowers and a child’s skipping rope were laid on the driveway of the house in New Malden yesterday, as officers worked inside the house.

Source: The Independent

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