London Evening Standard
April 23, 2014
A woman has been arrested over the deaths of her three severely disabled young children at their home in south London.
The children - two twin boys aged three and a four year-old girl - were found dead at their £1.2 million home in the affluent suburb of New Malden.
Their parents were named locally Gary and Tania Clarence, who also have an elder healthy daughter.
Mrs Clarence, 42, a graphic designer, was arrested when officers were called to her five bedroom home in Thetford Road after an emergency call at around 9.30pm last night.
Police said she had suffered minor injuries and was taken to hospital but was later discharged and arrested on suspicion of murder.
Her husband, Gary Clarence, 43, is a senior executive at the City bank group Investec. He is not thought to have been at home at the time.
There were reports that the eldest daughter, aged seven, who attends a private school The Study in Wimbledon, was on holiday in South Africa with Mr Clarence. They were said to be on flight back today.
Shocked friends and neighbours described them as a "lovely, respectable middle class family" who had moved to their home around two years ago.
The couple, both from South Africa, are said to have spent thousands of pounds refurbishing the Victorian house to make it open plan to accommodate wheelchairs for their disabled children.
The younger children were described by friends as suffering from a muscular dystrophy disease called spinal muscular atrophy.
The couple had a perfectly healthy elder daughter but when their second child Olivia was two years old they began noticing she had developmental problems, friends said.
At the same time, Mrs Clarence was pregnant with twin boys.
After doing a series of tests, doctors established the parents were carriers for the disease and that their daughter Olivia may not live to be teenager.
A friend said: “The twins could not function at all. They had no muscle strength whatsoever. It was so devastating. They realised their daughter was not developing properly and then discovered this awful genetic condition
“Her life was just so difficult. Always having different carers in and out of the house, transforming everything to make it accessible for wheelchairs. It was just so much to cope with.”
Joy Devis, 86, who saw the family just two days ago, said: "One of the children never got out of the wheelchair and the other two have difficulty in walking. They always seemed very happy and were delightful neighbours.
"Because they are so busy they had a full time nanny and a maid for when the mother goes to work.
"I used to see them playing in the garden. They were a delightful family and it's a terrible shock. They seemed perfectly happy.”
One neighbour said: "I was at a barbecue with them two weeks ago. They were there with one if their daughters. The seemed very happy and were laughing and joking. He was talking about golf and has been on a recent trip to the US. They seemed like a happy family this is a total shock."
Another neighbour, who used to socialise with the couple, said: “ It’s a total surprise for me, I would never have expected it to happen. It’s a total shock to me.
“They were a very nice couple and we had them around for dinner. Who knows what the circumstances were, but it’s very tragic.”
Harry Flinders, 60, a lawyer, said: “It was a very old house, very dilapidated and they spent quite a lot of money doing it up. I gather they had some disabled children because they had ramps installed inside and other special apparatus.”
Mr Clarence, a keen golfer, is a senior executive at City bank Investec. He joined the company in 1999 after studying in SOuth Africa and worknig as a solicitor. He began in the finance department before moving to the US for 18 months, later becoming head of healthcare after moving back ot the UK.
A spokesman for Investec said it was doing “all it could” to help.
He said: “This is a desperate tragedy and a private matter. Gary Clarence is a valued colleague and has worked with us for many years.
“We do not know the facts but at this time our thoughts are with the Clarence family.
“We are doing all we can to help Gary and his eldest child.”
The five-bedroom house was sealed off behind a police cordon as the investigation continued. An Audi estate car, silver Land Rover Discovery and a Hyundai 4x4 were parked in the driveway.
Forensic offices could be seen working in a first floor bedroom, thought to be a child’s room.
A Kingston Council spokesperson said: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the deaths of three children from New Malden. 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.”