Tania Clarence pleads guilty to manslaughter of her three children

Tania Clarence pleads guilty to manslaughter of her three children



On 22nd April 2014 Gary Clarence was with one his four children and other family in South Africa when the police informed him that his three other children had been found smothered to death, and his wife, Tania Clarence, had been arrested for their murder.

On 13th October 2014, Ms Clarence entered pleas of guilty to the manslaughter of the three children – twins Ben and Max aged 3, and Olivia, aged 4). The prosecution will not seek a trial on the charges of murder, and the matter was therefore adjourned for sentence.


Why manslaughter?

The three children all had type 2 spinal muscular atrophy (see here for the NHS fact sheet on it).  –  “killed her three-year-old twin sons Ben and Max and daughter Olivia, aged four, because she was depressed and wanted to end their suffering.

More details will no doubt emerge at the sentencing hearing, but “The prosecution said Mrs Clarence killed her three-year-old twin sons Ben and Max and daughter Olivia, aged four, because she was depressed and wanted to end their suffering.” Apparently, “Mrs Clarence could “see not hope for the future” and could no longer cope with caring for her children.”

We will get an fact sheet on murder/manslaughter up at some point (promise), but in this case the defendant stated that “This offending did occur whilst Mrs Clarence was suffering from an abnormality of the mind.

“She was manifesting stress throughout the life of the children by their suffering and caring for three children with this condition was exhausting, distressing, debilitating and turned out to be overwhelming.” After killing her children, Ms Clarence tried to kill herself.

The Prosecution would have accepted that there was an abnormality of mind that substantially diminished Ms Clarence’s capacity, and hence accepted the plea to manslaughter.


What will the sentence be?

Sentencing for manslaughter has the widest range for any criminal offence. Whilst sentences have been on the rise in recent years (in accordance with all offences), the sentence here will depend on the psychiatric evidence and whether it can be dealt with by a Hospital Order, or whether there will be some form of prison sentence.

It is an exceptionally difficult sentencing exercise for the Judge. Whilst there needs to be a recognition that three children died, clearly this is a hugely tragic event for all concerned. People often scoff, or get offended, when the term an ‘act of love’ is used when a mother or father kills their offspring, but it may be that it goes some way to explaining the circumstances (to the extent that it can ever be explained) behind the headlines.

Parents killing their children is obviously an incredibly rare event (though proportionately less rare) fortunately, and we would suggest that deterrence plays no part in the sentencing here.

Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.


  1. This is extremely sad & tragic. Tania Clarence was clearly suffering from depression and the role of caring for disabled children clearly affected her mental state. RIP Ben, Max & Olivia.

  2. I am a law student, although I find it hard to address this from a purely ‘legal perspective’.

    I grew up with a brother who had severe and ‘life-limiting’ disabilities. Knowledge that someone you love will have constant illness and pain and will, eventually, die young, is truly heartbreaking. This knowledge about three children is unimaginable.

    Can any of say that we know how we would act in her situation? I would not endorse killing for a second, but the sheer amount of stress, pain and anxiety she must have been under clearly explains her actions.

    Furthermore, her suicide attempt demonstrates her state of mind at the time.

    I really hope the court considers what is really in the public interest here, and how criminally culpable we can really hold this poor woman.