18 Jul 2023

Dickason trial: Mother accused of murdering three daughters wasn't 'nurturing', father tells court

8:31 pm on 18 July 2023
Lauren Anne Dickason in the High Court at Christchurch on 17 July 2023, on trial charged with murdering her three children.

Lauren Anne Dickason in the High Court at Christchurch on 17 July 2023. Photo: Pool / NZME/ George Heard

Warning: This story contains distressing content.

Hours after a father found his three daughters dead in their Timaru home, he told police his children preferred him over their mum and how his wife was "not a nurturing mother".

Karla and Maya, two-year-old twins, and their older sister, six-year-old Liané, were found dead in their beds on 16 September, 2021.

Their mother, Lauren Anne Dickason, 42, has been charged with three murder counts and has pleaded not guilty, with her legal team arguing a defence on insanity and infanticide. Infanticide functions as a standalone offence and as a partial defence to murder, according to the Crimes Act.

On the second day of the trial today, in the High Court at Christchurch, video footage of Graham Dickason's 2021 police interview was played for the jury and judge. The 46-year-old orthopaedic surgeon later gave evidence from South Africa via audiovisual link.

During questioning by police on the night of the deaths, Dr Dickason was seen in the footage with his head in his hands often as he quietly described the events prior to their deaths. He told Timaru police detective Sam Hawker how he arrived home from a work function and realised something was awry.

"I went in the living room, saw my wife standing in the kitchen, put down my keys.

"She looked strange, she looked wobbly like as if she wanted to fall over and I asked her if she's okay, she didn't really reply and I asked her what's the matter and she told me it's too late.

"I can't remember the exact words. I asked too late for what and then asked her if she, if she took something, why is she looking like this. I assumed the kids were sleeping."

The Crown argues his wife made unsuccessful attempts to asphyxiate the girls and then smothered them with their blankets. Dr Dickason described to police how he reacted when he realised his daughters were no longer alive.

"I panicked, I didn't know what to do. I ran back asked her what's she done. Not something specific, I think I just screamed. I screamed repeatedly.

"I'm not sure I went out, I went back in, I went out. I sat outside, I'm not sure how long, I wasn't sure what to do."

It had been only a month since the family arrived in New Zealand from South Africa.

The court heard how Dickason, whose long history of mental health struggles and trauma were recounted in her husband's three-hour police interview, struggled during Covid-19 isolation periods prior to the move. This was exacerbated when one of the girls tested positive, which delayed their departure by another two weeks, the court heard.

"It was not a traumatic experience but it didn't, it wasn't part of the plan," Dr Dickason said.

"And Lauren was not in a good place."

He also told police how she had difficulties parenting.

"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. 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."

Having returned to his homeland after the deaths, Dr Dickason gave evidence via audiovisual link on Tuesday afternoon.

Lauren Anne Dickason is on trial in the Christchurch High Court charged with three counts of murder of her children six-year-old Liane and two-year-old twins Maya and Karla at their Timaru home on September 16, 2021. Pictured: Crown Prosecutor Andrew McRae. 17 July 2022 New Zealand Herald Photograph by George Heard

Crown Prosecutor Andrew McRae at the high court trial on 17 July, 2023. Photo: Pool / George Heard

Crown prosecutor Andrew McRae asked him about Dickason's demeanour upon arriving in the country. Dr Dickason said she was prone to periods where she was more "quieter and reserved".

"Lauren, in my mind, has always been more of an introvert," he told the court.

"But in my opinion, this was different to the prior periods. She was definitely quieter in those last couple of weeks and more reserved."

The court also heard how Dickason was annoyed at her husband for having started his new job in Timaru earlier than planned. He said while his wife cared for the girls, she was often emotional and would not pick them up for a cuddle very often.

Dickason will be cross-examined by the defence on Wednesday.

On Monday, the court heard from defence lawyer Kerryn Beaton KC, who said in her opening statement that Dickason longed to be a mother, and underwent 17 rounds of IVF to have her daughters. Dickason loved her children, Beaton said.

She said Dickason had always tried to do what was best for her children, but on the night of the deaths, she was experiencing such a major depressive episode that she felt she needed to kill herself, and take her daughters with her.

The trial is set down for three weeks.

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