A mother who provided round-the-clock care for her three severely disabled children is being questioned on suspicion of murdering them while they were alone together at their home.
The children, a girl aged four and three-year-old twin boys, had 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 their full-time carer but had been under immense pressure looking after the children, who, according to acquaintances, had been struggling to sleep.
Mrs Clarence and her husband, Gary, have an older daughter, aged seven. They had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds converting a semi-detached, five-bedroom home in New Malden, south-west London, to provide wheelchair access for the disabled children.
Their eldest daughter reportedly showed no signs of the condition, thought to be spinal muscular atrophy, that affected her siblings. It can lead to fatal breathing problems in childhood.
The couple, originally from South Africa, were unaware they were both carriers of the genetic disorder until Mrs Clarence was pregnant with the twins, said a source with knowledge of the family. They had tests only after they became concerned about their second daughter’s development. Mr Clarence is reported to have been in South Africa with their eldest daughter when the other children were found dead on Tuesday night. He was believed to be flying home and specialist detectives were speaking to other family members.
Neighbours said they knew the Clarences as a “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 raised questions about the level of help. Mrs Clarence had told friends that the attitude of her local authority, the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, was “judgemental” and officials had taken 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, [the children] 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 was suggested to Mrs Clarence that she should seek full-time residential care for the children but she told an acquaintance: “There’s no way I can do that, I will see it through.”
A spokesman for Kingston council said that it was looking into contacts with the family. “We are deeply saddened to hear of the deaths of three children from New Malden,” he added. “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 a local councillor, Kenneth Smith, to improve the pavement outside their home to provide wheelchair access for her daughter. Mr Smith said she obviously cared very much for her children, adding: “She came across as a very caring type of parent.”
In an email to Mr 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 muscles. The two most severe types – which affect babies less than 18 months old – lead to fatalities in most cases. The most common form stems from a genetic problem copied from each parent. There is no known cure.
Police confirmed that they were called on Tuesday evening by someone worried about the family’s welfare and officers found the children found dead at the house.
A woman aged 42 was taken to hospital with minor injuries and discharged, before being arrested and questioned at a London police station. Detectives said they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the deaths.
Mr Clarence is a director at the 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. “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 in tribute on the driveway of the house as officers worked inside the property.