S. African killer mother sentenced to hospital

18th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

A British judge on Tuesday ordered the hospitalisation of a depressed South African woman who smothered her three young disabled children as they slept before attempting suicide.

Tania Clarence, 43, had pleaded guilty to manslaughter by diminished responsibility of her three-year-old twins Ben and Max and four-year-old daughter Olivia in April.

Prosecutors had asked for her to be sent to prison.

Judge Nigel Sweeney said there was "clear and convincing" evidence that she was suffering a "major depressive episode" when she suffocated them at the family home in London.

"The prosecution accept that you loved all four of your children," he told the Old Bailey court, but said she became "overwhelmed" by the challenge of looking after them.

Quoting a psychiatrist, the judge told Clarence: "If you had not been suffering from mental illness at the time, you would not have killed your children.

"Prosecutors had argued that the pre-meditated nature of the killings and Clarence's failure to address her mental health problems meant that "her responsibility remains considerable".

The three dead children suffered from a life-limiting, muscle-weakening condition, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 2, and were in and out of hospital.

Clarence and her husband Gary, an investment banker, also had another daughter aged eight, who is not disabled.

He and the child were on holiday in South Africa at the time of the killings.

He has supported his wife throughout the court proceedings.

Imposing a hospital order, the judge told Clarence she would not be released until doctors declared her as having recovered from her depression.

Since being charged she has been receiving treatment in a secure ward at a psychiatric hospital.

Last week, Clarence wept uncontrollably in the dock as prosecution lawyers described how she smothered the sleeping twins with a nappy, before tucking them in carefully and placing little cars and other toys around their heads.

"She found it much harder to kill Olivia, and wrote a letter to her husband in the time between killing the boys and killing Olivia," lawyer Zoe Johnson told the hearing.

The little girl was found in a similar position to her brothers, in her bed with her covers tucked up to her chin and toys placed around her.

Their bodies were found after Clarence's mother grew worried and asked a nanny to check on the family.

The court had also heard how Clarence had clashed with doctors about the children's treatment, preferring to opt for palliative care rather than a more invasive treatment.

Three years before the killings, a doctor warned that Clarence was "seriously over-stretched" and "under intolerable strain", and she had admitted suffering depression, but did not follow through with seeking help.

© 2014 AFP

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