Editor's note: This story contains graphic details that some readers might find distressing.
- Graham Dickason has told the court that his murder-accused wife, Lauren Dickason, was joking when she texted saying that she wanted to kill her children.
- Graham has said that he felt confident that the children were safe with Lauren.
- Lauren is accused of murdering her three children in September 2021.
Text messages in which Lauren Dickason said she wanted to kill her children were meant in jest, her husband Graham has said.
During the cross-examination of Graham at Lauren's murder trial on Wednesday, he said the text messages were a way of Lauren venting to him.
Graham appeared via audio-visual link from Pretoria.
Lauren is accused of strangling and smothering Liané, 6, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla on 16 September 2021 while her husband was out for dinner with colleagues. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In his opening arguments on Monday, prosecutor Andrew McRae said there were numerous text messages in which Lauren spoke about killing or hurting her children.
According to the New Zealand publication Stuff, Graham was cross-examined by Anne Toohey from Lauren's defence team on Wednesday morning.
Toohey took Graham through text messages between him and Lauren, and in some of them, Lauren refers to "killing" the kids or coming close to doing so after they misbehaved.
About one particular message, Graham said he believed Lauren was joking. He accepted that she would occasionally vent to him in her messages, saying that he had done the same.
Graham also told Toohey that he didn't think his daughters were at risk from Lauren, even though she told him that she thought she may "do something to the babies".
He recounted the 2019 incident with Toohey, saying that he did not believe the children were at risk because Lauren had come to him "with those feelings of anxiety".
Graham said he had never seen Lauren hurt the children and that Liané had never said anything to indicate that Lauren could hurt them.
Back then, he said, he had felt so confident that the children were safe that he'd taken a trip shortly after the incident.
Graham conceded that he had not mentioned to the police that Lauren had spoken of hurting the children because he was in shock at the time of his interview.
At the time of the 2019 incident, Lauren was under pressure caring for two infants and a toddler, Graham said. Karla had just had surgery to repair a cleft palate and her arms were in splints to stop her from touching her face for several weeks.
Graham described the time as "quite stressful". He recalled that Lauren was crying when she approached him and "mentioned those words" to him.
Graham also divulged more details about their fertility struggles, saying that Lauren's "main goal" was to start a family after the first few years of marriage. While the couple struggled to conceive, Lauren prescribed herself antidepressants – something Graham was not aware of at the time.
He said Lauren had mentioned killing herself due to the couple's infertility.
It took seven rounds of in vitro fertilisation for Lauren to fall pregnant, but she suffered a miscarriage in 2012. He said the miscarriage had been at 18 weeks, not 22 weeks as previously mentioned.
He added the experience was "deeply upsetting for both of them" and that Lauren had cried every day for two months. When she got pregnant with Liané, she was fearful she would lose the pregnancy in the same way, he added.
Graham described home life with the three small children as "intense", especially as he worked long and unpredictable hours.
However, Lauren took "meticulous care" of the children, Toohey suggested, with Graham agreeing and saying that she was always well-organised in caring for the children.
He said that describing Lauren as "not a nurturing mother" during his police interview the day after the murders had been something he'd said "on the night" and was not accurate. He said that she was "definitely a nurturing mother" who loved the girls.
He added that Lauren showed concern for the girls' safety and often organised fun events for them.
Toohey suggested that Graham had made a subjective assessment of Lauren's mental health which had not necessarily been accurate. In hindsight, she suggested, Lauren's depression had been quite serious.
However, Graham said:
I don't think that's for me to say.
He accepted that Lauren could have been suffering from postpartum depression.
According to the New Zealand Herald, Graham said that after Liané was born Lauren sought psychiatric help and was diagnosed with "major depressive disorder and postpartum depression", and "underlying anxiety".
The jury was shown a message Graham sent his wife at one stage, in which he said she was a "wonderful mother" who "[gives] up so much for the kids".
In another text, sent one Mother's Day, Graham said: "You are a very special mommy. Best of the best. In a class of your own. We love you to infinity and beyond."
Graham said that as part of New Zealand's immigration requirements, Lauren's doctor had to provide a letter about her mental health.
According to Stuff, Lauren struggled with lockdown in South Africa, the court heard, and she had sent text messages to friends indicating that it was a difficult period for the family.
In one message to a friend, sent on 21 April 2020, she said: "I am struggling with lockdown; it is affecting my depression and makes me a terrible mum and wife."
In another message on the same day, Lauren told a friend that she had "lost it" and "cried for a whole hour lying in the dark".
Toohey also submitted a message in which Lauren said: "I almost called you because I was suicidal, please don't tell Graham."
Graham said he did not recall Lauren speaking to him about being suicidal during this time.
The cross-examination continues.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from mental health issues, you can contact:
- The SA Depression and Anxiety Group's 24-hour mental health helpline: 0800 456 789
- SA Federation for Mental Health: 011 781 1852
- Lifeline South Africa: 0861 322 322