Home /

Lauren Dickason sentencing: Live updates for mum who murdered three young daughters

Anna Leask
Dickason has been found guilty of murdering her three young children at their Timaru home in 2021. She now faces a life sentence for the murder of each child. Video / NZ Herald
  • Triple murderer Lauren Dickason has been sentenced to serve 18 years in Hillmorton Hospital with no minimum term of imprisonment.
  • The South African doctor was convicted in 2023 of murdering her three young daughters after a five-week trial.
  • She made no reaction in court when sentence was delivered but later issued a statement saying she “failed” her three daughters.
  • Emotional victim impact statements were delivered in court and Dickason reacted with emotion to some.
  • The Crown told the court a starting point of 24-25 years non-parole was appropriate, with a 30% discount for mental illness.
  • Dickason’s lawyer argued a mental health unit was the appropriate place for her.

The South African doctor convicted of murdering her three young daughters has been sentenced to serve 18 years in a mental health unit in Hillmorton Hospital.

Lauren Anne Dickason, 41, was found guilty of murdering Liane, 6, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla at their Timaru home in September 2020.

Shortly after the sentence was handed down Dickason issued a statement saying she had “failed” her daughters.

“I take responsibility for taking our three beautiful girls from this world,” she said.

“I would like to take this opportunity to convey the deepest and most sincere remorse for the extreme pain and hurt caused to my children and my family by my actions.”

After considering all of the material and legal points, Justice Cameron Mander ruled a life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years or more would be manifestly unjust.

He did not sentence her to life in prison, rather, three determinate sentences of 18 years, to be served concurrently.

He did not set a minimum term of imprisonment, therefore Dickason is eligible for parole after a third of her sentence, six years, has been served.

He ordered Dickason to be detained at a mental health facility for compulsory treatment, rather than prison. She will remain at the facility until she reaches a point she is mentally well enough to be transferred to prison.

When sentenced, Dickason remained silent and did not react. Her mother wept.

Justice Mander began the sentencing by outlining how Dickason killed her three daughters and acknowledged Dickason’s diagnosis with a major depressive disorder in her teens.

He spoke about the reoccurrances of her depression over the years – before and after Liane and then the twins were born.

She was then seeing a psychiatrist regularly for post-natal depression and Justice Mander said it was clear Dickason’s mental state was “in decline” in the months leading up to the triple murder.

She experienced “intrusive ideations” of harming her children during that time.

Justice Mander said since the trial he had been provided with three expert reports about Dickason’s current mental state.

They said there was “recognition of the impact of the offending on others” and that she had expressed “remorse and regret” for killing the little girls.

Several said the woman remained mentally disordered.

“Sentencing a parent for the murder of three children is unprecedented in New Zealand... the children were vulnerable because of their age, but they were entirely dependent upon you as the mother who they look to for care and protection.

”They would have viewed you as an unconditional source of safety and love... The ending represents a fundamental breach of trust.”

Justice Mander acknowledged the grace and stoicism with which Dickason’s husband and their girls’ father Graham had conducted himself throughout the ordeal.

“I also acknowledge the unfathomable loss for both sides of the family.”



The Crown said the link between Dickason’s mental illness and her conduct was insufficient to rule out a life sentence.

Dickason’s lawyers submitted that the brutality of the murder did not preclude a finding that a life sentence would be manifestly unjust.

Justice Mander said ordinarily the murder of three children would point away from a life sentence being manifestly unjust – but he had to consider the killer’s mental health along with that in this case.

Forgiveness and agony in victim impact statements

Bettie Dickason, the mother of Lauren’s husband Graham, told the court of the neverending pain of losing her three grandchildren.

“In all honesty, I don’t hear the words of vocabulary to accurately describe the pain this has brought upon me and my family,” she said.

”I am a 78-year-old grandmother who once had 10 grandchildren and now have seven – who once trusted someone, took someone into my home and that someone who is now a convicted murderer.

”Some days it feels unbelievable, like I’m living in some horror film that I won’t be able to wake up from.”

Graham Dickason told the court he “lost everything” with the murder of his girls and his life with his wife.

“I have been grieving the loss of my daughters ever since... I have witnessed my family as well as Lauren’s family grieving the loss… never would we have imagined having to deal with a situation like this.”

“I have not only lost my life with my children but my life with my wife Lauren,” he said.

”I have also lost everything with regards to my children growing up... I will not see them turning into beautiful young women, finding their own husbands and starting their own families.

”I’ve had to make peace with this... I have managed to accept my current position in life.

”Lauren Dickason has lost everything I have lost... I made the decision very early on in this tragedy to forgive Lauren. She will have to live with what she did for the rest of her life. Her punishment is already severe.”

Dickason became distressed at parts of the statements, particularly the words of her sisters-in-law.

Lauren Dickason closes her eyes as she listens to victim impact statements being presented to the High Court at Christchurch. Photo / Pool
Lauren Dickason closes her eyes as she listens to victim impact statements being presented to the High Court at Christchurch. Photo / Pool

Graham’s sister Hermien said the loss of the girls turned her family’s lives upside down.

“My heart was ripped from my chest... we still cannot make sense of the murders of Liane, Karla and Maya,” she said.

”They represented life and love and brought sunshine to the family. Since their deaths a dreadful sadness struck our family... we long for them every day. They are gone far too soon.”

Graham’s second sister Elisabeth cut all ties with the woman through her statement.

Elisabeth said not a day goes by where she does not think of Liane, Karla and Maya.

”Mostly good thoughts,” she said. ”But sometimes I think about that night how the innocence was corrupted, how afraid they must have been the disbelief and betrayal they must have felt… We miss them and we miss them forever.”

She spoke directly to Dickason, who listened intently.

”It’s time to cut those strings and let Graham go – there is nothing that binds us. I forgive you. But for now it is time for goodbye.”

Graham’s third sister Cecelia said initially she was “very sympathetic towards Lauren”.

”I loved her like my sister and did not want to believe, she could do something like this,” she said.

”But having sat through most of the trial with my sister... I was shocked by the details that emerged about how the girls were murdered.

”It was tough hearing that... I suppose we were all hoping that the girls did not experience any trauma, however the trial made it clear.

”It would be nice to hear Lauren apologise for her actions. I do not feel hatred towards Lauren. I feel a deep disappointment and sadness.”

Lauren Dickason sits in the dock for sentencing at  Christchurch High Court.
Lauren Dickason sits in the dock for sentencing at Christchurch High Court.

She hoped that the sentencing would bring some kind of closure to the family, particularly, her “brave” brother.

Dickason’s family then read statements – blasting and blaming the New Zealand government for the tragedy and complaining about the investigation, court process and the way the offender was treated from the night of the murders until now.

“We love her unconditionally and always will,” said a close family member, whose name is suppressed.

”What happened that night could not have been at the hands of the Lauren that we know so well,” she said.

The woman was “disappointed and angry” with Dickason’s doctor in South Africa, for “not taking proper care of Lauren”.

”We are angry with the New Zealand Government for such strict MIQ rules, even for families of five, with small children who are used to running around in South African Gardens, having ample space to move around and run freely.

”We are angry that the New Zealand Government insisted on a specialist appointment and letters for Lauren’s mental health and Karla’s cleft lip within a week of them arriving in a new country.

”If a country knew a person was struggling, surely support structures rather than tick boxes should have been put in place.”

The woman said she had “a newfound understanding for mental health, especially postpartum depression” since the murders.

“We feel the need for more advocates of hope that can break the stigma around mental health and postpartum depression in particular. We feel that too many women are being silenced and not given a voice to express how they are truly feeling... they are still judged and penalised for voicing their emotions.”

She implored Justice Mander to exercise “mercy, grace, empathy an sound judgment” when considering Dickason’s “very unique and complex case”.

Dickason’s father Malcolm Fawkes’ statement expressed disappointment with the New Zealand government.

“Why did you impose such inhumane MIQ requirements on essential service people and others in general?

”We are disappointed with (Immigration New Zealand). Why did you insist on Lauren having to submit reports on her mental condition and Karla’s cleft lip within a week of arriving?

”Why did you not proactively warn Timaru that a person with mental health challenges was approaching - and set up appropriate care and support systems proactively to help her on arrival?

“The loss to us has been huge,” he said.

”It has left a big vacuum in our lives which cannot be filled completely by the other five little grandchild we have in South Africa.

”However, we know the girls are in a good place.”

He finished his statement saying “women must be encouraged more to come out of hiding when it comes to personal mental health issues”.

”Women must be heard. Lauren was not heard – even when she spoke up.”

Dickason was sat in the dock alongside security guards and a mental health support person. All three accompanied her during last year’s trial.

Members of the public filled the courtroom, some who attended Dickason’s five-week trial.

Graham and Lauren Dickason with their daughters, from left, Maya, Karla, and Liane.
Graham and Lauren Dickason with their daughters, from left, Maya, Karla, and Liane.

The Dickason family had emigrated from Pretoria, arriving in New Zealand on August 28.

They spent two weeks in managed isolation and then travelled to Timaru, where Dickason’s husband Graham had taken a job as an orthopaedic surgeon.

Dickason admitted killing the girls by smothering them but denied charges of murder.

Dickason had mounted a defence of insanity or infanticide on the basis she was so mentally unwell at the time, that she could not be held fully responsible for her actions.

After a high-profile five-week trial in 2023, a jury found Dickason guilty of three counts of murder.

Anna Leask is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers national crime and justice. She joined the Herald in 2008 and has worked as a journalist for 18 years with a particular focus on family violence, child abuse, sexual violence, homicides, mental health and youth crime. She writes, hosts and produces the award-winning podcast A Moment In Crime, released monthly on nzherald.co.nz.