Ten years after the horrific murder of Sophie Elliott her parents say the pain of losing her will never go away.

Three days away from the anniversary of her death Gil and Lesley Elliott - now separated- have spoken about their ongoing grief, Lesley's battle with Parkinson's Disease, and her recent decision to pack up Sophie's Dunedin bedroom where she was killed.

But at the heart of their devastation, the pair continues to advocate for violence prevention so other families don't have to endure what they have.

Sophie Elliott, 22, was packing for a new job with the Treasury on January 9, 2008, when shortly after midday her former boyfriend, Otago University tutor Clayton Weatherston, stabbed her 216 times. Lesley Elliott witnessed parts of the attack.

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"Strangely enough I think each [anniversary] has got harder," Lesley Elliott tells the Weekend Herald, apologising as her voice cracks. "I think because, it's a long time ago but it's not. It just seems like yesterday in some respects because I just remember so much of it so vividly, and yet there's so much that I haven't remembered."

Asked to reflect on a decade since her daughter's death, she starts at the beginning. Back to Dunedin in June 1985 when Sophie was born; a happy addition for Gil and Lesley who already had sons Nick and Chris.

Sophie Elliott was a "great little kid" who grew into an outgoing, popular woman who enjoyed sport, music and dancing. She loved economics, and had an early start at university though devastatingly for her family, died before graduating.

"The day after Sophie died I went to my GP and said, 'Give me what it takes to keep me standing up in the day and sleeping in the night, because I won't survive this'," Lesley Elliott said.

Gilbert and Lesley Elliott talk to the media after Clayton Weatherston was found guilty of murdering their daughter Sophie.
Gilbert and Lesley Elliott talk to the media after Clayton Weatherston was found guilty of murdering their daughter Sophie.

But she did survive. Since then she has written two books with friend and fellow advocate, former police officer Bill O'Brien, Sophie's Legacy and Loves Me Not; launched the Sophie Elliott Foundation, established Loves me Not - a violence prevention programme now in 105 schools - been made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit and alongside ex-husband Gil Elliott spoken out in support of a law change, leading to the removal of the provocation defense.

Weatherston, who turned 32 the day of the homicide, pleaded not guilty to Sophie's murder and argued provocation, telling the jury that Sophie mistreated him, claiming she attacked him with scissors as she packed. The relationship had ended months beforehand and Sophie was bound for Wellington. Weatherston's evidence was widely condemned.

He was represented by Judith Ablett-Kerr QC and the late Greg King but the jury rejected his arguments, finding him guilty of murder. Months later then-Justice Minister Simon Power outlawed the defence.

Lesley Elliott speaks about the day when her life changed forever. Video/Otago Daily Times

Gil Elliott, now 75, remains angry. He believes Weatherston - how the couple refer to him - got off lightly with an 18-year non-parole life sentence and is still incredulous Sophie's conduct was scrutinised.

"He's still alive and able to get out and she was given a life sentence," he says. "Every year is hard and it will still be hard as time goes on. The thing with grief is that it doesn't get any better. It changes, but it doesn't get any better."

Gil is busy too. He gives regular talks about Sophie and joined the Sensible Sentencing Trust. Despite separating the Elliotts remain good friends.

Now 71, Lesley Elliott has retired from nursing and dedicates herself fulltime to Loves me Not which sees her fly frequently across the country - no easy task because the Parkinson's is slowly grabbing a hold, and she's had major back surgery.

"Getting on and off planes was a bit of a feat for me. I have new respect for people who walk with walking sticks, it's not easy."

She's kept quiet about the diagnosis, which she received six years ago, not even telling family initially. A disconnect between her brain and her hand saw her initially fear she might have a tumour.

"I knew what [Parkinson's] was but I didn't really know the details so I came home and looked it up and thought, 'Oh god that's not great'," she said.

Aside from some lost strength, medication has controlled the effects and she's eager to destigmatise the disease. She doesn't want to detract from her work however; or for people to feel sorry for her.

While she has come across research which provided a potential link between stress and the onset of Parkinson's, she does not know if the stress she has faced since Sophie's death was a factor.

And she refuses to get angry about the battles she is enduring.

"Anger is a funny thing, in a way. I don't get angry very easily," she says. "Gil is quite different. He gets very angry at what Weatherston has done to us as a family, to Sophie. We've missed out on having a daughter and a sister who was going to make it in the world.

"She could have been married with a family now, who knows? We've been denied that. I could be angry about that, but I don't feel angry, I feel incredible sadness. My anger might come out really clearly when he gets out, if he ever does. That's when I'll be angry because I don't want him to ever get out. Ever."

Clayton Weatherston in the dock for sentencing at the Christchurch High Court. Photo / NZPA
Clayton Weatherston in the dock for sentencing at the Christchurch High Court. Photo / NZPA

Weatherston will be eligible for parole on January 9, 2026. His parents Yuleen and Roger declined to comment when contacted this week. Lesley has always acknowledged the Weatherstons have had it tough too.

"I feel terribly, terribly sorry for them because we've lost a daughter but they've lost a son as well, it must just be devastating," she said.

"He was very much loved I'm sure, and it's just absolutely shocking for them I'm sure. The trial and everything was terrible, they had to sit there and watch him and watch the whole process which was not very nice."

She barely thinks about Weatherston and couldn't even describe what he looked like if you asked her, she said. Instead she focuses on her work; the difference she's making.

From the 95-year-old woman who came to hear her talk, to the sullen teenage boy who told his mum about Loves Me Not, to the eight women who wrote to say they left an abusive relationship where they believed they would die.

Lawyer Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, along with Greg King, defended Clayton Weatherston at his murder trial.
Lawyer Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, along with Greg King, defended Clayton Weatherston at his murder trial.

Sophie would have been 33 this year. Some reminders still pain.

Watching Sophie's friends grow up. Walking past the city carpark Sophie used. Seeing a group of students.

Others don't. Lesley remains living at the Ravensbourne home Sophie died at, and only recently packed her belongings- admittedly because her son is staying and needed the space. She still calls it Sophie's room.

"I'm very comfortable with being here, it doesn't bother me at all. As far as I'm concerned, she's here. I have a spiritual feeling that she is. Every time I hear the stairs creak I'm sure it's her coming up and down the stairs. I know it sounds ridiculous but I'm comfortable with it."

Every January 9 Lesley likes to be at Sophie's memorial tree at Otago University by 12.15pm. Sophie died at 12.25pm.

The tree is near the music halls and when students are playing outside on nice days, it's serene. Last year she spent it at home and sobbed uncontrollably on Sophie's bed.

"It was absolutely awful."

Her voice strains again. Ten years means little.

"You accept it, it's not difficult to do that, but it's unbelievable, you know?" she said.

"I frequently say to Gil, I still at times can't believe that she's actually gone and then, I can't believe that she went the way she did. It just doesn't compute sometimes, and I think, 'how did this happen?'

"That's what my father used to say to me: 'Lesley how did this happen to my granddaughter?' I said, 'I don't know Dad'. I don't know why it happened and how it happened."

Roger Weatherstone talks to the media after his son was found guilty of the murder of Sophie Elliott. Photo / NZPA
Roger Weatherstone talks to the media after his son was found guilty of the murder of Sophie Elliott. Photo / NZPA

The family usually publishes memorial notices and invite all and sundry to their home but Gil wonders whether they should continue.

Lesley finds Christmas hard - it marks a downward slide toward January 9, but says Sophie would have wanted the family to move on. To mark the day in some way, but to move on.

"She wouldn't want us to be moping around, she would say 'For goodness' sake get over it,'" Lesley says.

"That would be her comment. She would, I know she would. She'd be mad, she'd be angry to start with, but then she would get it over by this time. She was much more positive, that's the sort of person she was."

Lesley Elliott has written two books with friend and fellow advocate, former police officer Bill O'Brien, including Sophie's Legacy.
Lesley Elliott has written two books with friend and fellow advocate, former police officer Bill O'Brien, including Sophie's Legacy.