WARNING: This article contains graphic content
“It’s too late” were the only words Lauren Dickason said to her husband when he returned to their Timaru home from a work function shortly after she had killed their three little girls.
Graham Dickason then realised “something was wrong” and went to check the children, finding them all dead in their beds.
“I panicked,” he told police in an interview the day after the alleged murders.
He then recounted going from child to child, cutting cable ties from their necks that his wife had fastened in her first attempt to kill them.
The three girls were eventually smothered with blankets.
Lauren Anne Dickason has admitted killing 6-year-old Liane and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla at their Timaru home on September 16, 2021.
Her husband, orthopaedic surgeon Graham Dickason, had left the house just 20 minutes before she took the girls’ lives.
While Dickason admits she killed the three children, she has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and infanticide.
She is currently on trial before Justice Cameron Mander and a jury of eight women and four men in the High Court at Christchurch.
Today the jury will watch a video of Graham Dickason’s interview with police, conducted the day after the alleged murders.
They will then hear further from the grieving father when he gives evidence - via audio-visual link from his home in South Africa.
Members of both his and Dickason’s family are in court in Christchurch for the trial.
Graham Dickason’s police interview
In the video, Graham Dickason is visibly distressed, often with his head in his hands and answering questions with his eyes closed.
“Tell me everything that has happened today,” the police interviewer says.
Graham Dickason spoke about taking his children to school in the morning - the twins had their first day of preschool and Liane had started a local primary school earlier.
He then went to work, leaving his wife at home to tend to family and life admin.
He had lunch with colleagues and headed home in the afternoon - going for a walk and to a playground with his wife and daughters after they returned from school.
Graham Dickason had a work function that night and left the house after the children had dinner.
“Before I left we showered the kids and put their pyjamas on,” he recalled.
“I left for the meeting ... I had supper and went home. I parked quietly, unlocked the door, took off my shoes, I went into the living room and saw my wife standing in the kitchen without my kids.
She looked strange, she looked wobbly ... I asked her if she was ok, she didn’t really reply ... I asked her what was the matter and she told me ‘it’s too late’.
“I asked her if she took something ... and then I realised something was wrong.
“I looked in Liane’s bed, she was covered with a blanket, her face was pale, she had a cable tie around her neck ... I went to the twins’ room, saw the same thing there.
“I panicked ... I asked her what she’d done ... I grabbed the scissors and I went to Liane’s room and cut the cable tie, went to the twins, cut the cable ties.
“I couldn’t see any sign of life. I got Liane onto the floor, I couldn’t see any sign of breathing, any heartbeat... she was lifeless.”
Graham Dickason called a colleague to come and help him.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” he said.
As the video is playing in court Dickason is sitting watching and taking notes. She is supported in court by a psychiatric nurse and security staff.
Graham Dickason spoke to police about his wife’s struggle with mental health during their 15-year marriage.
“Lauren had been suffering from depression for a long time, it’s a mild depression I would say, she just struggles on a daily basis,” he said.
“Before we had Liané, she verbalised she didn’t see any point in living, she wanted to take her own life.
“After that, she sought (psychiatric) help for the first time.
“The second time was two years ago when the twins were small.”
Graham Dickason said his wife was a “very anxious person” and their fertility journey had exacerbated her distress.
“We struggled for eight years before we had Liane, then we had a miscarriage before that, we lost a baby at 22 weeks, her name would have been Sarah,” he explained.
He said in the lead up to the alleged murders his wife “lost a lot of weight” - which he put down to the stress of moving and parenting three young children.
“Obviously there was something deeper that, that I didn’t recognise. I’ve been 15 married to her for 15 years - not in my wildest dreams did I imagine something like this,” he told police.
‘It’s too late’ - a father’s nightmare
Graham Dickason said when he left home on the night in question the children were watching television.
He did not feel that they were being “unruly” and nothing was amiss.
He said his wife had been quiet that day but he’d tried to give her space.
“I think the only thing we really spoke about was something to do with our visas… She was quiet and I thought I wouldn’t force her into conversation.
“I’ve been with her for 15 years, she’s been like that many times… there were not fights… I assumed she was stressed or tired.
“It was no different from previous times… she didn’t seem like she would do anything.”
He spoke further about what he found when he got home.
“I realised that there was something strange in her face… It’s just a facial expression I haven’t seen before and she was wobbly, she had to hold onto the kitchen top to stay upright.
“That’s when I asked her if she was okay… I asked her what’s wrong, and the only thing I can remember that she said was ‘it’s too late’... Just bluntly ‘it’s too late’.”
Graham Dickason said the exchange with his wife was only about 30 seconds.
“When I saw her the first time I knew something was wrong… she couldn’t tell me what was wrong - it was just my first reaction was to go into Liané's room,” he said.
“The door was open and the light was off, and I switched the light on and the duvet was covering her head. She never sleeps like that. I pulled back the duvet. Her face was pale. I tried to wake her up and that’s when I noticed the cable ties around her neck.
“I shook her by her shoulders, spoke to her, probably yelled at her… I don’t think I picked her up at that stage, I think I just tried to wake her.
“I think I ran for the twins’ room, saw the same thing. I think I tried to wake both of them briefly, before I ran to the kitchen to get the scissors.
“I cut the cable tie around Liané's neck first… I think I put her on the ground and I think I gave, tried to give her two breaths. And I think after that I ran to the twins to cut the cable ties around their necks… I was in a panic. I can’t say for sure what was the exact sequence.
“I screamed their names, checked, grabbed their shoulders. I think I could see in the colour of their faces that it was futile but I cut the cable ties.”
Graham Dickason said there were at least two cable ties around the girls’ necks.
He had purchased the cable ties days earlier during a trip to Mitre10 to purchase an Allen key so he could loosen the brakes on a bike a colleague had given him for his oldest daughter.
“Cable ties are a very useful thing, I always have cable ties with me and when I walked past the aisle I saw the cable ties and I just bought the bag,” he said.
“I didn’t even think about it, I just popped it in my trolley.”
He said once he realised the children were all dead he left the family home.
“I think I already took Liané to the twins’ room cos she was in my arms when I ran back there. And I think when I realised that they, all three deceased I just went out of the house,” he told police.
“I had nowhere to go.
“I did notice that (Dickason) made her way to Liané's room and I think the last time I saw her she was just lying across the foot end of Liané's bed... I wasn’t sure if she’s dead or alive, I didn’t check.
“I just walked past and, walked out of the house. I didn’t talk to her, she was just laying with her eyes closed.”
Graham Dickason said he called a friend to come to the house because he didn’t know the New Zealand emergency number.
“I asked him to come and help me. He could probably hear I was distressed. He asked ‘what’s wrong’ and I think I just told him that something’s wrong with the kids, that Lauren
did something to them and I think they’re dead,” he said.
“I walked around the house, I think I was screaming around the back side of the house… I think I just sat in the hedge just on the grass.”
The friend arrived and called the police.
The trial so far
The family had emigrated to New Zealand from Pretoria, South Africa, and had been in Timaru only two weeks - after a stint in managed Covid-19 isolation - when the children died.
The details of the alleged murder were suppressed until yesterday when Crown Prosecutor Andrew McRae outlined the case for the jury.
He said Dickason was “calculated, lucid and deliberate in her actions” and that she intended to kill the little girls because she was angry, frustrated and resentful that they were “getting in the way” of her relationship with her husband.
The court heard had - for many years - suffered from a mood disorder, anxiety and “perfectionism” and was on medication.
Adding to her personal stress, she and her husband underwent 17 rounds of IVF - losing a baby along the way - before they conceived their first child.
The jury heard that by 2021 - after the twins were born - Dickason was doing so well at managing her health through lifestyle and exercise that she had stopped taking the meds.
McRae said the months leading up to the family’s move to New Zealand was, naturally, stressful.
And while he acknowledged Dickason was “suffering from a major depressive episode” when she killed the girls, she was not so disturbed she did not know her actions were wrong.
“There is no doubt in this case that the defendant was responsible for killing her own children - the issue is whether she intended to kill the children in anger … frustration … or resentment for how they were getting in the way of her relationship,” said McRae.
“She knew what she was doing before, during and after - she acted methodically … even clinically.
“There is no medical evidence here.”
Defence lawyer Kerryn Beaton, KC, told the jury Dickason was a loving and kind mother - but in the lead-up to the girls’ deaths she was “very unwell”.
She said the case was “brutal and confronting: and the jury would likely be “shocked and horrified”.
But she maintained her client was not a bad person.
“Tragically no one realised how unwell she was until it was too late,” she said.
“Lauren was in such a dark place, so removed from reality, so disordered in her thinking ... that when she decided to kill herself that night she thought she had to take the girls with her.”