SA mother who killed three of her kids remanded to mental hospital

18 November 2014 - 15:41 By Marvin Meintjies and Sapa
Police forensic officers leave the home in New Malden, London, where the bodies of three children were found on Tuesday. The mother, Tania Clarence, has been arrested. Neighbours left flowers and messages of support in the yard.
Police forensic officers leave the home in New Malden, London, where the bodies of three children were found on Tuesday. The mother, Tania Clarence, has been arrested. Neighbours left flowers and messages of support in the yard.
Image: PETER MACDIARMID

Tania Clarence was given a hospital order at her sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey today.

Clarence smothered her three disabled children Olivia, aged four, and twins Max and Ben, on Easter Tuesday at their upmarket home in New Malden, Surrey.

‎She had plead guilty to manslaughter with diminished responsibility, as she was suffering a "major depressive episode".

The court found as she had been "overwhelmed" by the physical, emotional and practical difficulties of caring for three kids with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 2.

According to the UK's NHS, "Although Type ll SMA is a life-limiting condition, improvements in care standards mean that most people with the condition live long, fulfilling and productive lives."

She has been remanded to the mental hospital she has been detained at since her arrest. She will only be released "once her treatment is completed" as she remains a suicide risk.

Family statement

"This case was one of the saddest to come before the criminal court. The Clarence family, and in particular Tania Clarence, dedicated their lives to the care and welfare of their three severely disabled children," the family said in a statement.

"Her love, commitment and tenacity in the face of the overwhelming responsibilities such care entailed was extraordinary.

"Her daily struggle ultimately overwhelmed Tania's ability to cope with the enormity of the task she faced. Ultimately her story of dedication and love became a story of despair and utter hopelessness,

"The loss of the children's lives at the hands of the mother who cherished them is a tragedy explained by her severe depressive illness," the family said.

"But it is also a tragedy from which lessons need to be learnt.

"Tania's depression was certainly not assisted by the constant pressure placed on the family by some individuals within the medical profession and social services who could not agree with Tania and Gary's stance of prioritising quality of life for their children and who were not readily willing to submit the children to operations and other interventions that they felt were not appropriate in the circumstances.

"Tania now faces further struggled and a future coping with the past. It is a future she will face with the support of her husband Gary, who stood by her throughout this tragedy. Tania and Gary would like to publicly acknowledge the support they have received from the public at large," the family said.

Grotesque details

Clarence wept uncontrollably in the dock last week as the "grotesque" details of the killings were read out by the prosecution.

Her husband, investment banker Gary, who has supported his wife throughout, also looked visibly distressed.

All three of the children suffered from the muscle-weakening condition SMA type 2. Had the Clarences known before the twins were born, they would have agreed to abort the pregnancy.

Prosecutor Zoe Johnson QC told the court: "She smothered the boys first whilst they were sleeping using a nappy so they would not smell her.

"She found it much harder to kill Olivia, and wrote a letter to her husband in the time between killing the boys and killing Olivia."

When police arrived at the house in Thetford Road, a female police officer found the twins, Ms Johnson said: "Each boy lay on his bed, on his back, with their eyes open and their mouths open.

"Little cars and toys had been placed by their heads. The covers were neatly tucked in and their arms were on top of the covers at their sides.

"Mrs Clarence had clearly placed the boys into some sort of pose, as if they were on a bier."

A male officer found Olivia also in her bed with the covers tucked up to her chin and toys placed around her.

Clarence repeatedly told the officers: "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I killed them".

"If they were in South Africa they would go to the top of a mountain and die"

The mother-of-four left a series of notes, including one to her nanny and her husband.

The court was told Clarence repeatedly clashed with doctors during a long history of the children's medical treatment in and out of hospital.

Clarence's attitude was that their quality of life was more important than its length and she preferred to opt for palliative care over more invasive treatment.

On one occasion, she said: "Gary and I do love our children just not in the way you want us to."

In May 2011 a doctor noted that Clarence was "seriously over-stretched/under intolerable strain" from all the medical appointments.

At the end of 2012, she told medics that she did not want to see her children's suffering prolonged and "if they were in South Africa they would go to the top of a mountain and die".

She also admitted to medical staff that she was suffering from depression on more than one occasion, yet did not follow through with any professional help.

Mental illness

Just before the killings, Clarence had been resisting agreeing to a gastrostomy for Olivia that doctors had urged because of fears that she was underweight.

The dispute also coincided with the appointment of an inexperienced social worker from Kingston Borough Council who replaced a woman who had resigned in disgust after being moved off the case because she had got too close to the family, the court heard.

At a meeting on March 24, the new social worker presented Clarence with a list of subjects for discussion including gastrostomy, physiotherapy routines, spinal surgery, her mental health - all of which she found "overwhelming".

In April, Mr Clarence urged "tact" as he finally agreed to a gastric button for Olivia, but at the same time, Kingston social services called a meeting to discuss the possibility of instituting child protection measures.

The social worker ignored his plea and during a second visit on April 16 without Mr Clarence being present she suggested to Clarence a gastric button for the twins next. Days later, all three children were dead.

Ms Johnson asserted: "Tania Clarence's rational belief that she didn't want to prolong her children's lives became distorted into an irrational decision to kill her disabled children, a decision she had formed well in advance of the killings."

Defending, Jim Sturman QC said: "You are dealing with a case where there is no evidence at all that Mrs Clarence would have harmed a hair on their head but for the illness she suffered."

Clarence had "adored" her children, but the problems of caring for them were "almost unimaginable" considering they were unable to feed themselves, walk, or hold themselves up.

He said it was not right to say Clarence would have preferred "nature to take its course" when the parents just wanted their children to be happy.

Sweeney had described the case as "extremely difficult".

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