Man convicted of murdering British backpacker in New Zealand

Grace Millane (22) went missing in Auckland last year while travelling after finishing university

Grace Millane went missing from a hostel in Auckland on December 1st, 2018 and a body was later found in the Waitakere Ranges. Photograph: Lucie Blackman Trust/PA

Grace Millane went missing from a hostel in Auckland on December 1st, 2018 and a body was later found in the Waitakere Ranges. Photograph: Lucie Blackman Trust/PA

 

A 27-year-old man has been found guilty of the murder of British backpacker Grace Millane whose body was found buried in a suitcase in New Zealand, local media has reported.

The young woman from Wickford, Essex, England was strangled by a man she had met on dating site Tinder and with whom she spent several hours drinking in the centre of Auckland on December 1st, 2018.

The pair returned to his apartment and Ms Millane was killed either that night or in the early hours of the next morning — the date of her 22nd birthday.

The jury of seven women and five men returned a unanimous verdict after just five hours deliberation at Auckland High Court.

The Crown successfully argued the man, whose name is subject to a suppression order, strangled her and shoved her body inside a suitcase before burying her in a forested area outside Auckland.

She was assumed missing and her father, David Millane, flew to New Zealand as local authorities spent a week searching until her body was found by police.

Mr Millane and Grace’s mother, Gillian Millane, wept after the verdict was delivered, as did several jurors.

The Millanes held hands as they left the court, with Mr Millane telling reporters the verdict would be welcomed by all of Grace’s family and friends.

“It will not reduce the pain and suffering we have had to endure over the past year,” he said.

“Grace was taken in the most brutal fashion a year ago and our lives have been ripped apart.

“Grace was our sunshine and she will be missed forever.”

The parents of Grace Millane, David and Gillian Millane speak to media outside Auckland High Court on November 22nd. Photograph: Dave Rowland/Getty Images
The parents of Grace Millane, David and Gillian Millane speak to media outside Auckland High Court on November 22nd. Photograph: Dave Rowland/Getty Images

The defence had claimed the death was accidental and occurred during rough sexual intercourse.

The court had been told Ms Millane had an interest in BDSM, with a previous sexual partner testifying they had used safe words and physical tapping to indicate when physical pressure became overwhelming.

During the trial, the jurors heard from forensic experts who examined the accused’s apartment for blood stains as well as Ms Millane’s body after her death.

They were also shown footage of the woman and the defendant drinking at various bars throughout Auckland and kissing before they returned to his apartment.

Video footage from the elevator of her exiting on the third floor marked the last recorded time Ms Millane was seen alive.

Police officers said phone data showed the killer had used Google to browse websites for large duffel bags, suitcases and car hire after Ms Millane died.

The defendant’s phone was also used to search for “flesh-eating birds” and “are there vultures in New Zealand?”.

Records showed the defendant had searched online for “the hottest fire”, “large bags near me” and “Waitakere Ranges”.

On Friday the killer was remanded to custody until his sentencing on February 21st, 2020.

He faces life in prison with a minimum of 10 years without parole, though the judge can increase the latter period.

Timeline

Here is a timeline of the events in New Zealand that led up to the death of the Ms Millane and the conviction of her killer.

November 20th, 2018

Grace Emmie Rose Millane arrives in New Zealand’s largest city Auckland after travelling for six weeks through South America. The 21-year-old visited numerous places in Chile and Peru that her mother, Gillian Millane, herself visited as a young woman.

In New Zealand she visits the northernmost tip of the North Island, Cape Reinga, and keeps her two older brothers and parents up to date with photos and messages.

November 30th, 2018

Ms Millane returns to Auckland and checks into a backpackers hostel in the centre of the city, sharing a four-person dormitory. She matches on Tinder with the man who would end up killing her, and then goes on a date with another man.

December 1st, 2018

5.37pm

Ms Millane leaves the hostel and travels to the nearby SkyCity complex. She takes a photo of a Christmas tree outside, which is the last message her family receive from her.

5.45pm-8.30pm

Ms Millane and her killer visit a number of bars, ending up at the Bluestone Room where they continue to drink and eventually kiss.

9.40pm

They leave the bar and walk across the laneway to the CityLife Auckland, where the man lives. Ms Millane goes up to the third floor with the man and exits the elevator. It is the last time she is seen alive.

The Crown alleges that after this the pair had sex and Ms Millane was killed.

December 2nd, 2018

1.29am-6am

Phone records shows the killer views pornography, takes photos of Ms Millane’s body and searches for “rigor mortis”, “extra large bags”, “carpet cleaner”, “hottest fire” and “Waitakere Ranges” — the young woman’s gravesite.

8am-10.42am

The killer leaves his apartment and buys a large suitcase and cleaning products. He hires a car and during the afternoon Googles “flesh eating birds” and “are there vultures in New Zealand”.

2.53pm-8.45pm

He goes on another Tinder date, hires a carpet cleaning machine and later returns it.

9.26pm

He takes Ms Millane’s body inside a suitcase down to the hire car

December 3rd, 2018

The killer drives the hire car to the Waitakere Ranges, stopping along the way to buy a shovel. He buries Ms Millane on the edge of Scenic Drive.

- December 5 2018

The Millane family file a missing person’s report with New Zealand police about their daughter. An investigation begins. The killer is contacted because he left a comment on one of Ms Millane’s Facebook photos.

December 6th, 2018

The killer is interviewed by police and says the pair went their separate ways after meeting at SkyCity.

December 7th, 2018

Police hold a press conference with David Millane, Grace’s father, appealing for information on her whereabouts.

December 8th, 2018

Police say that “Grace is no longer alive. This is a murder investigation”. That night, the killer admits Ms Millane is dead but says he did not murder her. He then takes police to where she is buried.

December 10th, 2018

The killer appears in court.

December 12th, 2018

Vigils are held around New Zealand in memory of Ms Millane.

January 10th, 2019

Ms Millane’s funeral is held at Brentwood Cathedral.

January 16th, 2019

The killer pleads not guilty in Auckland High Court.

November 4th, 2019

The trial begins with selection of the jury.

November 22nd, 2019

The trial concludes with the jury finding the man guilty of murder.–PA