WARNING: This story contains graphic and sensitive content.
Those first at the scene of the alleged murder of three little girls at their Timaru home have given emotional evidence about the incident.
Lauren Anne Dickason and her orthopaedic surgeon husband Graham arrived in New Zealand from South Africa on August 28, 2021.
On September 16 Dickason killed their daughters Liane, 6, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla.
The 42-year-old is on trial in the High Court at Christchurch facing three counts of murder.
She admits smothering the children to death, but has pleaded not guilty to the murder charges by reason of insanity or infanticide.
Since Monday, the jury has heard extensive evidence about the alleged murders, how Graham Dickason found his children dead in their beds and the family’s life leading up to the terrible day.
Dickason’s long history of depression and anxiety has been discussed in court at length, as well as her gruelling fertility journey that included having to give birth at 18 weeks’ gestation to a baby girl that did not survive.
Today the jury is hearing from those to arrive first at the tragic scene.
Graham Dickason had been at a work function and when he arrived home he found the little girls tucked under blankets in their beds.
They had been smothered to death.
Having only been in New Zealand a short time he was not sure of the emergency services number so called his colleague Mark Cvitanich.
This morning Cvitanich’s statement was read in court by Crown Prosecutor Andrew McRae.
He explained that Cvitanich was the clinical director of orthopaedics at the South Canterbury District Health Board and had been involved in employing Graham Dickason for a role at Timaru Hospital.
He first met the family when they arrived in the small town, letting them into their pre-arranged accommodation across the road from the hospital.
In the following days a welcome barbecue was held for the family and Cvitanich and a number of other colleagues and their partners attended.
Nothing seemed amiss with the Dickason family, Cvitanich said.
The night the girls died Cvitanich had attended the work function with Graham Dickason.
He had only been home for five minutes when his phone rang.
“Graham was crying… really distraught… he said ‘I think she’s killed my kids, I think they’re dead, I need your help’,’ Cvitanich said.
He and his wife drove immediately to the Dickason house.
“I could hear him screaming and crying,” he said.
“He was sitting on the ground, he kept crying and saying ‘they’re dead’.
“He was really distressed, he thought [his wife] was dead too.”
Cvitanich called 111 and directed police to the address as his wife sat with Graham Dickason.
The operator told Cvitanich not to let anyone inside the house.
He went back to his wife and the bereft father to wait for help.
Graham Dickason had his head in his hands and was crying “how could someone do that”.
Constable William Turnbull was the first police officer to arrive at the house.
He told the jury that after seeking permission from his senior to go inside the house he went to see if anyone needed medical assistance.
“I walked into house… I observed what appeared to be zip ties tied together in the hallway - they were in a loop but appeared to be cut,” he said.
He then went into the closest bedroom and saw Dickason lying across the end of a single bed.
He saw she was breathing and made the call to leave her and check if anyone else needed help.
In the next bedroom, he found the little girls.
The twins were in their beds with their blankets pulled up to their chests.
Liane was lying on one of her sister’s beds.
“I could see no signs of life for any of the three children and advised police comms there were three deceased at the scene,” Turnbull said.
“I could not see any breathing.”
Turnbull had already called for an ambulance but called colleagues to bring him a medical kit.
He went back to Dickason and when he spoke to her she opened her eyes.
She was not visibly injured and was able to partially sit up. She was drowsy and told him she had taken a powerful painkiller.
Turnbull’s senior told him to re-check the children and confirm they could not be saved.
“I went back and checked their airways and pulses…This is when I observed the two children in the beds had zip ties around their neck, and they had been cut.
“There were several [ties], connected.”
Turnbull confirmed there were no signs of life and went back to Dickason.
The jury was shown photographs of the house including the cut zip tie on the hall floor and Dickason lying on the bed, in her pyjamas with bare feet.
Photos of the bedroom where the girls were found were not shown.
The jury earlier heard that Dickason tried to asphyxiate the girls with the ties, but failed and smothered them to death with blankets.
As police cordoned off her home as a crime scene Dickason was taken by ambulance across the road to Timaru Hospital.
Police officer Alexandra Schrader told the jury it appeared Dickason was “affected by something”.
“She was occasionally saying words but it appeared like she was talking like she was sleeping,” she said.
“She was sleepy, weak, pale.”
Schrader accompanied Dickason as she walked to the ambulance and drove the vehicle the short distance to the emergency department.
She then stayed with her and collected her clothing and personal effects as evidence.
Both Schrader and Turnbull were visibly upset while giving their evidence, pausing often as they recalled what they saw and did the night of the alleged murders.
Hato Hone St John paramedics also gave evidence today.
Hayley Hooper said Dickason was “in a catatonic state” but her vital stats were normal and there were no life-threatening injuries.
She confirmed Dickason walked - albeit “stumbling” - from the house, down the driveway and stepped into the ambulance.
Hooper said when she checked the children there were “significant signs of strangulation”.
“There were no heart sounds,” she said, explaining how she checked the girls one by one for any signs of life and chance of resuscitation.
Hooper’s partner Alexandra Andrews said Dickason looked “vacant” when she spoke to her.
“Her speech was slurred... incomprehensible,” she explained.
“The patient had a cut on her left wrist which she had covered up with a small plaster... I asked if she had done it to herself and she said no... it was not bleeding and it wasn’t a concern to me.”
Andrews said there were no signs of an overdose at the house nor any signs of serious physical trauma.
“The patient was able to walk... she seemed to know where to go... the patient remained quite rigid but she was able to walk quite quickly and with minimal assistance.”
She asked Dickason if she knew where she was going and why - and the woman replied “yes”.
Dr Gabriella Garcon was the doctor that first tended to Dickason.
In her statement, read by McRae, Garcon said the patient had “a reduced level of consciousness” and was “nonverbal” but was responding to commands.
Dickason presented as if “a substance overdose had occurred”.
Garcon ran tests on Dickason including a CT scan to rule out hidden head injuries.
The trial is set for three weeks before Justice Cameron Mander and a jury.
The Crown will call more than 30 witnesses, including five experts on insanity and or infanticide.
The defence will then open its case and is expected to call a number of witnesses, including its own experts, to give evidence about Dickason’s mental state.