devastating: Gary Clarence’s Facebook profile picture with his twin sons, aged 3. Clarence’s wife Tania is suspected to have murdered the twins |and their daughter, 4. Picture: Facebook

London - South African Tania Clarence, accused of murdering three of her four children, could escape a full trial and punishment if the judge accepts her plea of guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

Clarence, 42, sobbed and had to be supported in the dock of London’s Old Bailey as she admitted to killing her three severely disabled children. But she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter rather than charges of murder the Crown Prosecution Service had levelled against her.

Her husband, Gary, 43, an investment banker with Investec, sat quietly on court benches just metres away.

If the Crown Prosecution Service and judge accept the plea of manslaughter by diminished responsibility, there will be no need for a full trial. To achieve that, Clarence’s legal team must prove she was “suffering from an abnormality of mental functioning” which impaired her judgment and explained her actions.

The decision will be largely based on the psychiatric investigations being carried out on Clarence at the secure unit where she has been locked up.

If accepted, the plea will give the judge a range of sentencing options. She could still be given life imprisonment, but she could also be subject to a hospital order under the Mental Health Act in which she would receive treatment rather than punishment.

Clarence arrived at the court on Monday by police van from the unnamed hospital where she has been receiving psychiatric treatment following her children’s deaths in April.

The graphic designer is alleged to have smothered daughter Olivia, 4, and twin boys Ben and Alex, 3, in the family’s five-bedroomed, three-storey townhouse in New Malden, south London. The children had spinal muscular dystrophy type two – or so-called “floppy baby syndrome” – which causes a range of physical disabilities and shortens life expectancy.

Gary Clarence was on holiday in South Africa with the couple’s eldest child, Taya, 8, when the three children were killed. Taya does not have the genetic condition.

Tania Clarence stood as Judge Justice Nicol set a possible trial date of next February. It is scheduled to last up to four weeks. In the meantime, the Crown Prosecution Service will decide whether to accept Clarence’s manslaughter pleas by conducting further psychiatric reports.

A previous hearing was told the family nanny and a neighbour – who cannot be named for legal reasons – entered the family home on April 22 to find it in darkness. They found Clarence in her bedroom, covered in blood. She was later treated in hospital for wrist injuries, released by doctors, and then arrested by the police.

A further search of the house found the dead boys, after which the police were called and the body of Olivia was discovered. All three were pronounced dead on the night of April 22. - Independent Foreign Service

Cape Argus