What does media coverage of tragic killings tell us about attitudes to disability?

Post from Alice Maynard, Chair of Scope

I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood in the past week, because of the tragic killing of three children with the condition that I have, spinal muscular atrophy.

Ben and Max Clarence, who were three years old, and Olivia Clarence, who was four, were found dead in a house in New Malden last week. Their mother faces a murder charge.

A lot of the media coverage surrounding the case has focused on the huge challenges that Tania Clarence faced, raising three severely disabled children.


But what has really upset me is an obvious thing that seems to have been missed – that three lives were cut short too early.

When I heard the news, I felt it really deeply. Because I am the future that those three children could have had.

Living with spinal muscular atrophy, or any disability, is not easy. I need support from a personal assistant to get up, get dressed and get to work.

People may well look at me and think that my life must be dreadful. But despite my apparent limitations, I love my life, I’ve achieved a lot and I’ve got a lot to give.

Maybe this is hard for people to believe. Scope, the charity I chair, recently looked at how far attitudes to disabled people have changed in the past 20 years. Our conclusion was that the aspirations of disabled people have never been higher. But that society’s attitudes are still playing “catch up”.

Millions of people in Britain still believe that disabled people need to accept unequal opportunity. And disabled people continue to experience negative attitudes in pretty much every area of their lives, in the playground, in the street, at work.

I can’t help but think that these attitudes have been played out in the way that these tragic killings have been reported in the media.

Mostly, there have been outpourings of sympathy for Tania Clarence. Other parents of disabled children have come forward, describing their own battles.

There is absolutely no doubt that raising a disabled child can be an extremely challenging, often isolating, experience. Many of the parents who attend Scope’s Face 2 Face befriending service tell us that they face a constant battle to get the support that they need. Most parents we speak to do not have the nanny, maid and £1.2 million adapted house that the Clarences have.

Mine certainly didn’t. It was incredibly tough for my parents, bringing up my sister – who is also disabled – and me in the 1960s and 70s. Fortunately, we were reasonably well off, and my parents could afford to adapt our house and car, so that we could be as ‘normal’ a family as possible.  But in those days, there was barely any provision for disabled people.  Our first ceiling hoist was the kind used in garages to remove the engine block from a car, and we were loaded in our wheelchairs into the van on a ramp made by my father from hardboard and Dexion.

We should all be aware of the challenges that families still face – and the woeful lack of support for them.

But murder is still murder. And the fact that the victims were three disabled children, who required a lot of support and attention, should not make it any less so.

Olivia, Ben and Max had their lives taken from them before they’d even really started to live them.

That they were disabled does not make those lives any less valuable.

7 thoughts on “What does media coverage of tragic killings tell us about attitudes to disability?”

  1. I too was upset because as a carer for someone who cheated death the day he was born and is still here 30 years later it is sad.
    None of us should condemn this parent as none of us were in here situation. And until you walk in domes shoes for 30 years you should not make a comment. I am fighting for our sons right to physiotherapy which without it he will end up in pain and a care home not where he wants to be. It is hard to get up and fight against systems that are there to defeat you with their knowledge but we do every day.

    Give some pity to this woman who might have coped better with adequate support.

      1. are you in a caring role or being cared for. I agree we all judge too quickly as human beings without looking at why something happens.

  2. I am the mother of a 6 year old boy with quadraplegic cerebral palsy. The change to our lives has been enormous and it would be so nice to hear more from older children in similar predicaments about the way they love and value their lives. My son cannot talk or sign. Our communication is limited to gestures and facial expressions alone. As his mother I worry constantly about his future happiness and sometimes, when bereft of any other experience, hope sometimes wanes. It would be so helpful to hear more stories of how these children and have grown up to lead fulfilling lives, especially when our children are so young and as parents we are still adjusting to this huge change in expectation. Help us restore our hopes and dreams.

    1. Wish that I could restore hopes but when an nhs pen pusher lies to a newspaper reporter And we are on the edge of a cliff with being exhausted by a 24/7/365 caring role. It gets worse whilst a child you do tend to get input into a condition and support. When that child grows up and becomes an adult the safety net is withdrawn and you either swim or sink. After 25 years of physiotherapy input we got a letter stating nhs were going to place someone with complex needs in our hands. I am refusing because I cannot be used to replace a professional physiotherpist and our son is discharged from the service. Or we can source a private physiotherapist, not many people have a spare 600 a month and that is just the cost of physiotherapy.

      Think all carers who are in the adult system now should warn people coming up behind us as what to expect.

  3. While I do not condone the killing of three children I can understand completely the despair this poor mother must have been feeling at the time. Thirty two years ago our son was born, severely disabled with both CP and mental problems as a result of brain damage he suffered whilst being born. From that day on to the present day our lives have been one constant battle to get even the most basic things, even down to the correct size of incontinence pads! We have had to battle the LEA to get the best education for him and now we are battling again for him to remain in the home where he has been living happily for the past nine years. This was his CHOICE, he didn’t want to live with us at home after having experienced independence at a residential school for five years and then on to a residential college for three years. He chose to live in a small (24 residents) home run by SCOPE in Northampton. He loves being with a variety of people, where he can choose which of the three lounges he can be in depending on what is happening and who is in there. We looked at a variety of homes from small (3/4) residents to the one HE CHOSE with 24 residents. He loves it there, it is like living in an extended family group. But, yet again we are having to fight his corner as the rug has yet again been pulled out from beneath our feet as SCOPE HAVE DECIDED that disabled people don’t want to live in this type of accommodation. SCOPE HAVE DECIDED, not us, our son or the other residents, he chose to live there and he and the other residents want to stay there, but are SCOPE listening, no, they are not giving the residents any choice , in fact they are imposing their views on the residents.
    So, I can understand this poor mother’s despair when you look into the future, it’s one constant battle after another, even people who initially give you hope turn against you in the end. These decisions are being made by people who may themselves be physically disabled but who have little or no concept of the pressures and difficulties of caring for somebody with both a physical disability and learning difficulties who lack capacity to make decisions for themselves.

  4. This story was really heartbreaking for anyone who read or heard about it, whether or not they have or had to look after a severely disabled child.

    I really felt hurt for both the mother and her poor children. Nobody can know the despair, frustration and depression the mother was most likely experiencing. It is tragic enough to have one severely disabled child, as most of us would surmise, but to have three, would knock anyone for six!!

    I do not blame mother at all, as I did not walk in her shoes and even though murder is murder, she may have reached the conclusion that one has to be cruel to be kind and her wish to “release them from any supposed suffering and certainly an uncertain future”, would probably have been overwhelming!!!

    I feel this country must get its priorities correct and that means our “plonking politicians” need to start thinking seriously about how they govern this country and many of its beleagered people. Instead of contempt; show compassion and give 0.3 of Britain’s GDP to places abroad instead of the current 0.7!! How on earth they can think it a good idea to leave hard working people (who pay the disabled) with 0.3 is beyond me!! We can stop paying billions into the sinking European state and start investing in Britain and making it GREAT once again.

    Once we have regained our equilibrium and money back we can then help our disabled people and give them back their respect, dignity and Independence. I am not holding my breathe however, because we have gone so far down this self defeating hole, that it will take a miracle to restore.

    My love and peace go to this poor family who through no fault of their own found themselves in the most unenvious position it is possible to be in.

    God Bless them all xxxx

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