London - She trembled and sobbed quietly as she was led into the dock on Friday. Tania Clarence’s sobs grew louder when a court official told her she was charged with the murder of her three severely disabled children at the family’s £2 million (R35.7m) home.
The 42-year-old mother’s voice reduced to little more than a whisper when she gave her name, address and date of birth. In the public gallery her husband Gary appeared strained and his eyes welled up as the murder charges were read out. At one point the investment banker, who is said to be in a state of shock, appeared to lock eyes with those of his wife for a moment.
Relatives and friends broke down in tears and hugged each other during the two-minute hearing at Wimbledon Magistrate’s Court in south-west London on Friday.
Tania Clarence is accused of murdering her 3-year-old twin sons Ben and Max, and 4-year-old daughter Olivia, who all suffered from the degenerative condition spinal muscular atrophy, sometimes described as “floppy baby syndrome”.
The former graphic designer was driven to court in a prison van and her head was covered by a fluorescent yellow jacket as she was led into the building by guards. Dressed in a dark grey smock with a white long-sleeved top underneath it, her hair was unkempt and her face was ashen as she stood in the dock between a male and a female security guard.
On occasions she scanned the faces in the public gallery, but for the most part she kept her eyes fixed towards the three magistrates. No formal plea to the charges was entered and she was remanded.
Chairman of the Bench Fiona Abbott said: “For these three charges you will be sent to the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey for a preliminary hearing on May 9. There will be a bail application at the Central Criminal Court at 10am on April 29.”
The family had spent almost a year renovating their home in New Malden, south-west London, to make it suitable for their disabled children, fitting a lift and ramps. The children had to be fed through tubes and their parents had to administer medicine hourly.
Police were called to the five-bedroom home at 9.30pm on Tuesday after friends became concerned about the welfare of the family.
The children were discovered in their pyjamas in bed and are believed to have been smothered.
Gary Clarence, 43, who works at Investec, was visiting relatives in South Africa with the couple’s eldest child Taya Grace, 8, who is not affected by the illness. They were in South Africa to celebrate Taya’s birthday when they heard about the deaths.
Gary Clarence attended court with his mother Anne, brother Kevin and sister Derri Philips, who all flew back with him to lend their support.