Lesley Elliot, Chairperson of the Sophie Elliot Foundation

Lesley Elliot (photo from the Sophie Elliot Foundation website)

Lesley Elliot (photo from the Sophie Elliot Foundation website)

Lesley Elliot is the chairperson of the Sophie Elliot Foundation and an award-winning campaigner for recognising the signs of domestic abuse, which is so prevalent in New Zealand (one woman dies every 26 days at the hands of her current or former partner, according to the Foundation's website). She also runs the Loves-Me-Not programme in schools to educate young women about healthy relationships.

Lesley's daughter Sophie was brutally murdered in 2008, at the age of just 22, by her ex-boyfriend, former Otago University economics tutor Clayton Weatherston, who turned up at her Dunedin house and stabbed her repeatedly (over 200 times) in her bedroom with the door locked and Lesley unable to enter. Weatherston was in his 30s and had been one of Sophie's economics tutors. Sophie was an honours graduate and was due to relocate to Wellington the next day for a Treasury job.

As if losing Sophie in such a horrific way weren't enough, Lesley and her family then had to endure a prolonged court case where Weatherston pleaded not guilty and defended his actions by claiming he killed Sophie because of 'provocation' during and after their short relationship. After five weeks in court, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. His legal team appealed the ruling, but their appeal was later dismissed.

Since then, Lesley and her husband have campaigned for law changes on how victim impact statements can be used by the courts (Sophie's father's statement was censored by the judge during the trial), and have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of how prevalent domestic abuse is in New Zealand – both physical and emotional – and to help young women recognise the signs, which include possessiveness, jealousy and controlling behaviour. 

In 2011, Lesley published a book called Sophie Elliott – A Mother's Story of Her Family's Loss and Their Quest For Change.  She has been awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to the prevention of domestic violence, won the top award at Westpac Women of Influence Awards in 2014, and was NEXT magazine's Woman of the Year in 2011.