Haven becomes house of horror

2014-04-27 15:00

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The world was stunned this week when it learnt that Tania Clarence had allegedly murdered her three terminally ill children

A ramp at the front door, several more inside and a state-of-the-art lift are testament to Tania and Gary Clarence’s attempts to make their New Malden, southwest London, house a safe haven for three of their incurably ill children.

A neighbour recalled seeing young children riding on scooters in front of the grand red-brick house adorned with white shutters.

But this week, the only children in sight were young friends, neighbours and well-wishers who came to lay wreaths, candles and teddy bears outside the Clarences’ home in memory of Olivia (4) and three-year-old twins Max and Ben.

The shutters stayed closed and shocked neighbours grappled with the news that 42-year-old Tania, by all accounts a devoted mother, has been charged with their murders.

British tabloid the Daily Mail interviewed friends of the couple, who said Tania worked around the clock caring for the children while Gary, an investment banker, travelled for business.

One said: “Everything was regulated, everything they ate diarised. I bet Tania had not had a decent night’s sleep in a few years. Gary is a businessman and had to travel. Tania has borne the brunt of it. Everybody who met her could not but be compassionate.” Another said: “They seemed so happy and pleasant.”

A newly fitted ramp is clearly visible at the property’s front door and neighbours talk of more ramps – and a state-of-the-art lift – created inside during a yearlong building project to completely revamp the R30?million house.

All three children suffered from spinal muscular atrophy, a little-known but incurable genetic disorder that attacks nerve cells.

Over time, the condition removes a child’s ability to walk, crawl and even swallow. In its most aggressive form, it typically proves fatal within two years of birth.

But it is unclear what form the disease had taken in the Clarence children.

The neighbour’s scooter sightings suggest they were not relying on wheelchairs to get around, but this could not be confirmed.

Tania Clarence is said to have quit her successful career as a graphic designer to become a full-time carer to the three children, as well as looking after eight-year-old Taya, who does not share her siblings’ condition.

Taya was on holiday with her father in his native South Africa – Tania, too, is a South African by birth – when news of the deaths broke.

They rushed back from Bela Bela, accompanied by members of Gary’s extended family.

The children’s paternal grandfather was not at his Randburg home yesterday, and a woman who answered the phone there said she was not comfortable speaking to reporters.

Neighbours in London speak warmly of two devoted parents, dedicating their time to their family and enduring a routine that included feeding their three youngest children by tube and a regimented system of administering medicines every hour.

The Clarences are said to have employed a carer, who shared some of the workload, but it’s believed the couple did not have support around the clock.

Local residents frequently saw Gary and Tania out and about with their children, and described them as a happy and close-knit family.

But, it is understood Gary’s demanding work commitments meant the bulk of the childcare fell to his wife.

As a well-respected figure in the financial services industry, 43-year-old Gary has spent the past 15 years with banking and asset management group Investec, a powerhouse in both the British and South African markets.

His current role as director, head of healthcare sees him in charge of a team of five corporate finance and banking specialists dealing with everything from equity capital markets to healthcare.

The Stellenbosch University graduate – and a keen golfer in what little spare time he gets – is also a qualified lawyer.

On Friday, he and his wife locked eyes across a Wimbledon courtroom, both struggling to hold back their tears. Standing behind a glass partition, Tania faces a trio of magistrates.

She was formally charged with three counts of murder “of a victim one year of age or older”.

She was remanded in custody and will appear at one of London’s most historic courts, the Old Bailey, on May 9. – Additional reporting by Biénne Huisman and Athandiwe Saba

.?Grey is EWN’s London correspondent

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