Cape Town - The “severely traumatised” South African father – whose Capetonian wife allegedly murdered three of their children – left the country on Wednesday night to return to the UK and face the unfolding nightmare.
Gary Clarence, 43, was on holiday in Gauteng with his 8-year-old daughter, staying at the family home in Bela-Bela, Limpopo.
Although Gary and his wife Tania moved to the UK more than a decade ago, the Clarence family continued to own the biggest hotel-conference centre in Southern Africa, the Birchwood Hotel and OR Tambo Conference Centre, which comprises 665 bedrooms and 60 conference rooms.
While Gary and his eldest child were in South Africa, Tania had remained in the UK with their three younger children – a girl, named as Olivia, 4, and twin boys, named as Ben and Max, aged 3.
The three younger children all suffered from a form of spinal atrophy, a “life-limiting” genetic disorder in which muscles don’t develop, family spokesman Lloyd Marshall told the Cape Argus on Wednesday night.
The life expectancy of people with the condition is only two to five years. They often die as a result of suffocation.
The tragedy unfolded in south London on Tuesday night, when officers were called to Gary and Tania’s property in the suburb of New Malden around 9.30pm.
Scotland Yard said a woman was taken to hospital for treatment for minor injuries before being discharged and arrested.
Marshall said: “Gary is in absolutely a state of shock – the whole family is. He never would have left the UK if he’d known (his wife) would be left really battling.”
The family was still in mourning after the death of Gary’s father, Brian, in October, described as a “pioneering entrepreneur” who founded the mega-hotel with Gary’s younger brother Kevin.
“Most of the family are on their way to the UK,” said Marshall. This included Gary’s mother, Anne, who was due to fly out of OR Tambo International Airport last night with her son and his sister, Derri Phillips, and Gary’s 8-year-old daughter.
The UK-based Press Association reported that police were not looking for anyone else in connection with the deaths of the three children, who were pronounced dead at the scene.
Scotland Yard gave no cause of death but post-mortem examinations will be carried out in due course.
A police spokesman said: “A 43-year-old woman has been arrested on suspicion of murder and remains in custody. We are not looking for anyone else in connection with this incident.”
All four of the Clarence couple’s children were born in the UK, where Gary works for Investec as the director of investment banking for healthcare.
Marshall said that after the 4-year-old child was diagnosed with the condition, it was “50-50” as to whether the twins would also have the condition.
“Unfortunately, they did as well,” he said.
British newspapers reported on Wednesday that the Clarence couple had the help of “carers” for the children, and had moved into their home recently, after significant renovations including ramps and a lift.
Marshall said they had lived elsewhere in London previously.
The British press reported that a neighbour, who did not wish to be named, described Tania and Gary as “a very, very lovely couple”. She said: “I saw them all the time about with their children.”
According to Investec’s website, Gary leads a team of five corporate broking specialists who advise clients on buying and selling companies, raising money and strategic reviews.
He graduated with a BComm and LLB from Stellenbosch University and an MBA from the Netherlands Business School, Nijenrode University, in The Netherlands
“After qualifying and practising as a solicitor, Gary completed his MBA and joined Investec in 1999. Gary spent the first couple of years as a corporate finance generalist, followed by 18 months in the Investec US office. Since 2004 has specialised in the healthcare sector,” reported the company’s website.
“Gary leads a team of five corporate finance and corporate broking specialists advising corporate clients on a full spectrum of transactions including acquisitions, disposals, fundraisings and strategic reviews.”
Investec spokeswoman Ursula Nobrega told the Cape Argus on Wednesday: “Gary Clarence is a valued colleague and has worked with us for many years. We do not know the facts at this time but our thoughts are with the Clarence family. We are doing all we can to help Gary and his eldest child and ask that their privacy is respected.”
What is spinal muscular atrophy?
Spinal muscular atrophy is a genetic disease that causes muscle weakness and progressive loss of movement.
It occurs due to deterioration in the nerve cells connecting the brain and spinal cord to the body’s muscles.
As the link between the nerves and muscles breaks down, the muscles become progressively weaker and shrink.
However, mental abilities remain unaffected.
The condition is usually caused by a genetic error that is inherited from both of the child’s parents.
A child can inherit it only if both of their parents are carriers.
If this is the case, each of the couple’s children will have a 25 percent chance of having the disease, a 25 percent chance of being completely unaffected, and a 50 percent chance of being a carrier but not having symptoms.
In children with the moresevere forms of the illness, fatal respiratory problems usually develop during childhood, meaning they never reach their teens.
Many also develop problems with swallowing.
There is no cure and treatment involves providing tube-feeding and help with breathing.
Source: NHS Choices