Mother charged with murder of three young daughters in Timaru New Zealand

It was supposed to be a new life in a peaceful, promising country.

The family landed in New Zealand in late August, a photograph online showing the children clutching little kiwis and with beaming smiles. The image should have been the founding photograph of the family’s sojourn in a new country.

They were a seemingly loving, Christian family – a mother and father devoted to each other and their three beautiful girls.

Graham and Lauren Dickason and their three children Liane, 6, and twins Maya, and Karla, 2, moved to New Zealand from South Africa in late August. On Thursday the children were found dead at a home in Timaru. (Stuff)
Their Facebook life painted a picture of a religious wife who regarded her husband as “a dedicated, fun-loving Dad” who was “unwavering” in his love and provision for his family.

That hopeful life started only a week ago in a pleasant Timaru street, full of blossoming fruit trees, parks, daffodils and sea views.

It imploded tragically on Thursday night.

Graham Dickason, an orthopaedic surgeon, returned to his home in Queen St to the horror of his twin daughters Maya and Karla, 2, and their older sister Liane, 6, dead.

Mr Dickason called for help, and neighbours overheard him screaming and yelling, saying: “Is this really happening?”

He and his wife Lauren, also a doctor, and their children had been in Timaru for just a week after moving from South Africa and leaving managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).
Neighbours say they heard screams and shouts coming from the property. (Stuff)

Late on Friday, Lauren Dickason, 40, was charged with murder. She will appear in the Timaru District Court on Saturday.

Emergency services arrived at the house shortly after 10pm, but the girls could not be saved.

Detectives have started a homicide inquiry and the suspected killer – a woman – was taken to the nearby Timaru Hospital, where she is in a stable condition.

Speaking to Stuff on Friday from South Africa, Lauren’s parents Wendy and Malcolm Fawkes said they were “devastated” to hear of the tragedy.

“The extended families are in a state of shock as we try to understand what happened. We ask for your prayers and support during this very difficult time.

“We would also request privacy as we battle to come to terms with what has happened.

“We would like to thank the staff of Timaru Hospital for their support at this difficult time … and the New Zealand police for their attention to this matter.”

Maria Mendy Sibanyoni was the girls’ nanny from November 2018 to May 2020.

Police crime scene investigators get ready to enter the Timaru property where three children were found dead. (Stuff)

“They were such a good family. I never saw anything wrong in that house – no fighting whatsoever.”

Ms Sibanyoni said a South African journalist alerted her to the deaths.

“I was torn apart. I just lost it. Tears and everything.

“I’m just asking myself is this really happening?”

Ms Sibanyoni said Lauren Dickason “loved her kids with all her heart”.

She last saw the children in June. The family were excited about their move to New Zealand.

An interim order suppressing publication of the girls’ names was briefly put in place by Coroner Marcus Elliott to allow police to contact relatives, but was lifted on Friday evening.

The property is believed to be used as housing for staff at the hospital. (Stuff)

Detective Inspector Scott Anderson said police were speaking with people from the property and no-one else was wanted in connection with the incident.

The property involved is believed to be used as housing for staff at the hospital, which is about 200 metres away. It is one of three Oamaru stone clad houses on a block near the Timaru war memorial and over the road from the Botanic Gardens.

The children’s bodies were removed from the house late on Friday afternoon. Flowers were left in tribute nearby, along with a soft toy.

Canterbury’s top police officer, district commander Superintendent John Price, said the family’s relatives were overseas, and they only had a small network of friends in New Zealand.

Lauren Dickason posted online earlier in September about the family’s move to New Zealand, from Pretoria in South Africa.

She asked advice on their move such as suggestions for schools and furniture stores in Timaru. She also said her eldest daughter had had very limited schooling over the past year, with numerous COVID-19 lockdowns in South Africa.

According to their social media profiles, both parents worked at Pretoria East Hospital before coming to New Zealand.

The couple had recently celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary. In a social media post, Lauren Dickason thanked her husband saying: “What an adventure. We have truly created a beautiful family and had many good times together.”

Rob and Jade Whaley, who live next door, say they heard “sobbing and banging” coming from the Queen St home. (Stuff)

Neighbours Karen and Brad Cowper said they called police just after 10pm on Thursday when they heard a man screaming and crying.

“We asked him if he was OK. He did not respond to us and was screaming and crying hysterically,” Karen Cowper told Stuff.

She said they heard the man saying, “Is this really happening?”

Other neighbours, Rob and Jade Whaley, heard sobbing and somebody banging a door 15 minutes before the police arrived at the property, which they said was rented to staff working for the South Canterbury District Health Board.

“The first noise we heard was somebody sobbing, and then we heard a loud thud like someone just slammed a door,” Jade Whaley said.

“We could see someone through our fence wandering behind the house and wailing.”

The Whaleys said a person who lives in one of the neighbouring units came to check on the noises. They found the person sobbing and called the police.

“The neighbour was trying to calm the person down at the back of the unit.”

Later in the night the Whaleys say they saw a woman being helped into an ambulance.

They said they did not know the people who lived there. The units were used to house staff working at the hospital and the tenants “cycled through the units”.

According to the Homicide Report, a Stuff data investigation examining why people kill, on average nine children, aged 14 and younger, are the victims of homicide in New Zealand each year.

Forensics officers were brought in to examine the property. (Stuff)

Before this week, two children were confirmed to have been killed so far this year.

Timaru District mayor Nigel Bowen said he did not know details of the incident but said it was hard on the community, coming just a month after five teenagers were killed in a car crash in Washdyke.

“It’s tough for the community. It’s time to keep talking to each other and be compassionate. A lot of families will be affected by this.”

At least 43 people have died in suspicious or homicidal circumstances in New Zealand so far in 2021.

At the same time last year there had been 48 suspected homicides. Last year’s toll closed at 69.

On average there are 67 homicides in New Zealand each year. The rate of 1.3 homicides per 100,000 people is above the OECD median of 0.95 per 100,000.

The Homicide Report’s data is provisional and may change depending on the outcome of investigations and court cases.

National Domestic Violence Service: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). If you are in immediate danger call triple zero (000).

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This story originally appeared on Stuff and has been republished here with permission.

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