WARNING: This article contains graphic content
Graham Dickason said in the months leading up to his wife killing their three little girls she “was not in a good place” and many different stresses were getting her down.
But he could never have imagined what would happen just weeks after they arrived in New Zealand to start what was supposed to be a safe and exciting new life.
He has also revealed he found three sets of cable ties “strung together” in a wardrobe at the home he’d lived at with his wife and children when he returned to South Africa after the alleged murders.
Lauren Anne Dickason has admitted killing 6-year-old Liané 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 on trial before Justice Cameron Mander and a jury of eight women and four men in the High Court at Christchurch.
This morning the jury started watching an almost-three hour video of Graham Dickason’s interview with police, conducted the day after the alleged murders.
They heard further from the grieving father when he gave evidence this afternoon via audio-visual link from his home in South Africa.
Members of his and Dickason’s family are in court in Christchurch for the trial.
This afternoon Graham Dickason said he went back to South Africa soon after the children died.
He went straight to his mother’s house from the airport and remained living with her.
He told the court that he took the bedroom his wife had used to pack their suitcases before they emigrated and when moving old clothes out of a wardrobe he found three sets of cable ties “strung together”.
“It was a big concern to me when I found them, I initially didn’t tell anyone about it but when I went to see Lauren in January this year I asked her about it she did confirm she strung them together but threw them in the bottom of the cupboard and left them there,” he said.
He told the court that he and his wife regularly used cable ties to connect zips on luggage when they travelled.
“It wasn’t strange for me to find them but these were strung together... She didn’t (say why) she just confirmed she strung them together,” he said.
Graham Dickason’s police interview
In his police video Graham Dickason talked to police about what was going on in his wife’s life before the alleged triple murder.
Alongside selling their home in Pretoria and organising a move to Timaru, the couple faced lockdown with three little girls.
“We had to pack up the house, pack a container and we moved into my mum’s house with the kids and our suitcases,” he said.
“We were only supposed to stay for four or five days and then fly out to New Zealand, but Lauren also had a foot operation, which she would have had earlier but it was delayed also due to Covid restrictions at the hospital.
“And just prior to that we had severe riots in South Africa… where there was severe looting going on, political unrest and she was very scared.
“There was nothing close to our house but she was very, very scared…. I think it was a lot at one time.
“And then while at my mum’s we went for our pre-flight Covid test and my one daughter tested positive… and that forced us to be in isolation for two weeks at my mum’s place, which we didn’t anticipate.
“During that time she really struggled. She didn’t eat much, she didn’t have a lot of conversation with anybody, she was really stressed.”
He said his wife became “distant”.
“Lauren was not in a good place… it’s always been her personality to stress about things and to anticipate things are going to go wrong and to worry about them before they go wrong,” he said.
“I’m totally opposite, I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy who waits ‘til things go wrong. I don’t anticipate problems, if something goes wrong I sort it out, so we’re different in that way but I understand after being married to her for 15 years and I supported her well.
“But there was obviously much more than I ever...”
He said Dickason sought professional help for her mental health - first when her oldest daughter was very young.
“But there was nothing major,” he said.
“It was around the time that Liané was small I think and we were still dealing with the loss... the miscarriage of that little girl, it was 22 weeks [and] Lauren actually had to give birth to her... [it was] quite traumatic for her.
Graham Dickason told police said his wife had been through “a lot in her life”.
“She had a lot of problems at school with teachers and friends. According to her she was not popular… she was in an all-girls school… she was never invited to a dance or the prom… she had a lot of social, traumatic memories from a young age.
“And you know when you’re young… you’re invincible but I didn’t think those things would ever add up for, to get to a point to be capable of what’s happened today.”
Lauren Dickason ‘not a nurturing mother’, court hears
The police interviewer asked Graham Dickason to describe his wife as a mother.
“She would always make sure that there were clean clothes, food to eat, she always made sure the kids are where they needed to be,” he replied.
“She was not a nurturing mother. The kids preferred me - not so much Liané anymore because she’s a big girl, but the twins definitely preferred me.”
He said he did not pursue being a favourite parent, but during the lockdown in South Africa he could not work and was home with his kids all day.
“She was struggling with motherhood and I think I compensated for that by giving the kids everything they, they needed on a social level,” the court heard.
“She verbalised on multiple occasions that she doesn’t seem to think she’s a good mother. And I’ve always reassured her, maybe that was a mistake.
“I just never thought she could do something like this.”
“She was not one that would like to pick them up or just be with them or cuddle. She’s very good in organisation, her organisational skills are exceptional but she could never just enjoy them.
“I always hoped that it could improve and I think I just tried to compensate for it. But it was never anything that I worried about in terms of being harmful to the kids.”
He recalled his wife crying “a lot”.
“I think it’s part of her depression that she’s struggling with. She was a very closed book, especially these last couple of weeks,” he said.
“If I suspected that anything like this could happen I would never have even come here.”
The couple almost put a stop to their move to New Zealand a number of times - but ultimately wanted a better life for the children.
Graham Dickason said South Africa was a “beautiful place” but there were many political and racial issues.
“The current situation in South Africa is that white people are heavily in the minority and it’s dangerous. There’s a lot of crime and a lot of people getting hijacked, killed, murdered - innocent people,” he said.
“The country is going backwards in terms of infrastructure - electricity supply, the land value has dropped significantly over the last couple of years.
“There’s a lot of people emigrating from South Africa all over the place - especially people like us with, with young kids to try and secure better quality of, of life, safer life.”
He said his job offer was “a good pulling point”.
“She was always on board - in fact, she drove this immigration, she wanted it,” he said.
“We could have stopped this process at many, many points, many times. There were multiple occasions where we could have said you know this, we’re not going to get through this, but we always did it and I thought it made us stronger.
“And there were days that were tough and I often tried to speak to her and ask her if she wants to proceed, and it was always a consensus.
“But something, something flipped... I cannot, I cannot imagine that it could cause what happened today.
“I didn’t see it.... my kids are dead.... It’s gonna destroy so many people... My mum’s not gonna be able to handle this. This will kill her.”
The jury also heard Dickason was taking an antidepressant each day.
She had stopped taking it for a while but began taking it again when she could not cope.
“She went on a bit of a health quest and she started exercising and she followed the programme called Kaizen Wellness… like a weight loss support strategy,” he said.
“And she did very well on that and she felt good and she stopped the medication without me knowing about it… but there was no issues really.”
After her foot surgery, Graham Dickason said his wife was “struggling” and he asked if she was taking her meds.
“She verbalised that she stopped it and we immediately started her back on it,” he told police.
He asked his wife on a “semi regular” basis if she was taking her pills and she’d assure him she had been.
“To my knowledge at the moment she has been taking it for at least four or five weeks again,” he said.
This afternoon the jury heard from Graham Dickason himself.
His wife watched on intently as he appeared in court via audio-visual link from South Africa where he is now living.
Several times she wept - mainly when her husband spoke about her oldest daughter and her excitement about starting at her new school.
The jury were shown a number of photographs inside the Dickason’s home - which had the usual signs of a busy family life including toys on the living room floor and colourful drink bottles and lunch boxes freshly washed and set beside the sink.
Jury shown some of last photos taken of Dickason children before alleged murders
They were also shown a photograph of Dickason tying her oldest daughter’s hair for her first day of school.
In the photo, Liané is sitting on the floor in front of her mother in her new school uniform and Karla can be seen sitting on the floor nearby cutting paper with bright plastic scissors.
Two other photos show a beaming Liané standing outside the house with her mother and then with both parents.
Graham Dickason said at the time, his wife was “definitely more reserved” and “not talkative”.
“She only communicated when necessary and conversations were much shorter than I’ve known over the past 15 years,” he said.
“What I’m describing now is something that started recently, when we started packing up our house in South Africa… if I think of the years before there were periods where Lauren was quiet.
“She was more of an introvert so there would be periods where she was more talkative, but this was different - she was definitely more quiet in the last couple of weeks.
“We could definitely communicate, it wasn’t that she didn’t talk at all… It was very basic, I think we’d been through a lot in that past couple of weeks and so communication was definitely more around what needed to be done that day.”
When they first arrived in Timaru Dickason had hoped her husband would stay at home with her for the first week and help her organise the family’s life.
However, Graham Dickason felt he needed to spend a couple of hours each day at his new workplace.
“They required me to start at the hospital the next week and I needed to familiarise myself at the hospital,” he said.
“She was not very pleased with that arrangement... she was definitely taken aback by that arrangement and was annoyed with me.”
The family emigrated to New Zealand on a Critical Purpose Visitor’s Visa, valid for one year.
They were in the process of applying for a Work-To-Residence visa that was valid for three years and Dickason was doing the bulk of the work on that application.
They enrolled the children at school and started looking at rental properties - but they were not in a rush to find a permanent home because the hospital had provided accommodation for them.
“There were no deep discussions... I don’t think she was too impressed with (the properties they viewed). She felt that the houses were cold and a little bit rundown,” he explained.
“In 2020 we left the house that we built together, it was a four-bedroom house on a large almost hectare-sized yard... when we sold that one we moved into a rental but it was a nice spacious house... a more modern home than the ones we looked at in Timaru... it was a comfortable space.”
Graham Dickason said he and his wife had planned to get involved in the community and make friends as soon as they could.
I had lots of hope that we would integrate easily and make friends with them and Lauren would hopefully make friends at the school with the mums - that was my idea,” he said.
“I would be working and Lauren would mainly tend to the children and we would develop from there.... we always had the idea that once the kids were in school, getting some employment for Lauren.
“But initially that plan was that she wouldn’t work... but there were options for Lauren for later on when she settled in... we discussed that... that was the arrangement that we had, I can’t say there were any concerns that I picked up on.”
Graham Dickason said while the initial idea to move to New Zealand the decision to move was a joint one.
A lot of emotions - husband speaks about fertility journey
McRae asked Graham Dickason to explain how the couple’s fertility struggles and loss of a baby impacted on his wife.
“A lot of ups and downs during a fertility journey but there’s always an underlying concern - tension, expectations,” he said.
“It definitely influences your daily life... there is also a lot of financial implications... there is a lot of hope and subsequent disappointments.
“I don’t think it’s an easy period of time for any woman who goes through it, a journey like that definitely goes with periods of feeling concerned, feeling unsure and then also physically... it can have an effect on your body.
“It was definitely a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions and feelings.”
“I think that was a very difficult period for both of us, it was not a nice time... Lauren was pregnant finally after so much time and so many disappointments and initially it went well.
“We were in a period of our lives where we had a lot of hope... you make plans, you look forward to a lot of things.”
Sadly after a holiday they had to make some “tough decisions” about whether the pregnancy was viable and what issues their daughter may have if they proceeded.
“We had no other choice but to induce labour... she gave birth to a stillborn baby girl at 22 weeks. That was quite emotional for us, a big letdown.”
Graham Dickason said it took many months for him and his wife to process their loss.
They continued IVF treatment and finally conceived Liané.
The pregnancy was high risk and Dickason was being monitored closely.
“After Liané was born and she was healthy that initial period was just a big relief and a sense of finally achieving what we had been working so hard for,” her husband said.
Liané was the first grandchild on Dickason’s side of the family.
“Everybody loved her and she was the most pretty girl you’d ever seen... it was nice to have a baby in the house,” Graham Dickason recalled.
But things became stressful when Liané did not sleep well.
Around that time Dickason was diagnosed with post-natal depression but “in general” the couple were having a good time watching their child develop.
“She was cute, she was clever - we had some pain with lack of sleep and tiredness but in turn it was an enjoyable time in our lives,” he explained.
Dickason was seeing someone around her mental health but there were no major concerns about her or Liané.
“Lauren was an extremely good mother.... but she admitted it more than once to me... that the baby part is not her favourite phase... you do a lot of things but you don’t get a lot of feedback.
“Her joy was more in the toddler phase... I think the first year with Liané was not her favourite part but I think she was very effective in handling it.”
The couple had a woman come and clean the house several days a week but Graham Dickason said she was not a nanny.
“Lauren and I were the primary carers - of course the grandmothers would come over but it wasn’t a permanent arrangement of having help, it was visitation,” he said.
In early 2018 they started discussing having more children and after a successful round of IVF welcomed the twins.
Lauren Dickason’s earlier thoughts of harming the children
Graham Dickason confirmed to the court his wife had spoken to him on three occasions about harming the children.
“The first incident was roughly in May 2019… it was a normal night, the night nanny came… Lauren was helping with settling down the twins. When she came back into the main kitchen area I could see that she was crying and she looked anxious,” he said.
“I immediately asked her what’s wrong. I cannot remember the exact words but she said she felt like she could do something to the babies.
“She didn’t specify what she meant. I sat with her… and tried to calm her down. She was crying.
“I phoned her mother who immediately came over and we just tried to talk to Lauren and find out what was bothering her.”
Dickason went and saw a psychiatrist and was told she likely had postpartum depression. She continued having treatment and took medication.
Her husband suspected the “anxiety attack” was “a combination of sleepless nights and fatigue” and “frustrations with the children” who did not sleep well.
“I don’t recall there were any other issues at that stage,” he said.
“She improved, definitely... Lauren seemed to have less anxiety and she seemed to have a good relationship and was functioning well with the children after that.”
The second incident was in July 2021 when the couple were still working towards emigrating which he said was a very stressful time.
She had a “severe anxiety attack” and mentioned “she could make an end to it all”.
“When I inquired further... she said she feels like she can sedate the children and cut their femoral arteries so it can just all be over,” said Graham Dickason.
He said he was not worried about her “doing it” more about “why she was saying it”.
“Lauren was not a violent person,” he explained.
“It was the first time I’d heard her say something like that.”
Graham Dickason asked his wife to see her doctor again and said the next morning things seemed to be back to normal.
“I did not take any further action, I connected it to her anxiety attack,” he said.
The third incident was when the family were staying with Graham Dickason’s mother before they moved to New Zealand.
“Lauren came to me out of the blue... I believe her words were ‘I’m having that feeling again’,” he said.
“I told her to immediately take her anti-anxiety meds... it was a much lesser incident.”
By then it was too late to stay in South Africa - their home was sold, their belongings en route to New Zealand, they did not have jobs.
“I couldn’t see us staying... I think my head was just in a mode of we need you to get on a plane and get to New Zealand. I hoped once we got here all of the things that had been worrying Lauren would stop,” he said.
“I had this vision and I did everything I could to get us there.”
Graham Dickason said there was uncertainty and nerves within his wife about the move but “no reluctance to emigrate”.
“I knew she was scared, but I was also scared... but knowing her for 15 years... I honestly felt we should complete this journey and ... and she never told me she wanted to pull the plug on emigration and not go.
“It wasn’t an option at that stage, it would have been harder to stay in South Africa at that stage, we would have been starting from scratch.”
The trial so far
Crown Prosecutor Andrew McRae spent two hours outlining the case against Dickason yesterday.
“The Crown says that the truth is that while the defendant was likely suffering from a major depressive disorder, she knew what she was doing before, during and after; she acted methodically and purposefully, perhaps even clinically,” he said.
“She knew what she was doing was morally wrong, and continued on her course.
“It’s natural in a case such as this to look for the reasons why to find a palatable motive to explain the inexplicable. But the Crown says that the motive was simple here that she snapped. It was the straw that snapped the camel’s back, she was under pressure.
“And when the children misbehave, her anger at the children took over and she killed them - an action naturally, she now very much regrets.
“However, the cause of this was not a disturbance of the mind from childbirth. nor was she insane.”
Defence lawyer Kerryn Beaton KC rejected the Crown’s portrayal of her client.
“Lauren Dickason was a loving mother and wife she loved her children very much - and yet she killed them,” she said.
“And as you’ve just heard it was violent and it was prolonged.
“But afterwards, she put her girls in their beds. She tucked them in with their soft toys. She covered them up with their blankets. And then she took an overdose of pills trying to kill herself. But she failed.
“This is brutal. It’s confronting. It’s difficult to hear and to imagine, we understand that you will be rightly shocked and horrified today. That’s understandable because what Lauren Dickason did was shocking and horrifying.
“And you might well be thinking what mother could do that to their children. A terrible person is what the Crown would have you believe, who resented her children and who wanted them gone.
“But the truth is that Lauren Dickason is a woman who longed to be a mother, who went through 17 rounds of IVF to have her three daughters. She wanted those children very much and she loved her family.
“The defence says this tragic event happened because Lauren was in such a dark place, so removed from reality, so suicidal, so disordered in her thinking that when she decided to kill herself that night, she thought she had to take the girls with her.”
Beaton said Dickason was experiencing “a major depressive episode” when she killed her little girls.
“You’ll hear that by the 16th of September, she wasn’t communicating well with her husband, or her family,” she told the jury.
“And she was very unwell. And while those close to her were worried about her, tragically, no one recognised just quite how unwell she was until it was too late.”
The trial continues.