The mother of murdered British backpacker Grace Millane said she will be forever “haunted” by the violent end her daughter met, as her Tinder date murderer was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The 28-year-old New Zealand man, who retained temporary name suppression, was sentenced to life imprisonment at a New Zealand court on Friday morning, with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.
Millane had been in New Zealand for less than two weeks when she matched with her killer on Tinder. She was murdered on December 1, 2018, the night they first met in person, during what the court heard was rough sex in his hotel room after cocktails at downtown Auckland bars.
Before the sentencing was read out, Millane’s mother Gillian Millane made a moving victim impact statement via audio-video link from England.
Gillian told the court she would be forever “haunted” by the way her daughter, whom she considered her best friend, had died. She said she experienced suicidal thoughts in the months after, and that she feared turning on the radio lest a song reminding her of her daughter be played.
“You walked into our lives and destroyed Grace in pursuit of your own sexual gratification,” Gillian told the murderer.
“The terror and pain she must have experienced at your hands. As a mother, I would have done anything to swap places with her.”
“I sit full of guilt knowing I couldn’t help her, that I should have been there.
“Your barbaric actions towards my Grace is beyond comprehension.”
The murderer, in the dock, put his head in his hands at points in Gillian’s emotional statement and appeared to cry.
Courtroom 11 at the High Court of Auckland was packed with media and members of the public as the sentencing was read out. Justice Simon Moore said he would not give any discounts to the killer, describing his behaviour as “depraved and callous”.
Millane’s brother Declan said his sister, who graduated from university with a degree in advertising, was a “beautiful soul who had the drive and passion to set the world alight”.
“You’ve ripped our family apart and for what? There is no reason behind this unspeakable act,” he told the killer.
Justice Moore said he had read dozens more victim impact statements from Millane’s friends, mainly female. A recurring theme was that they no longer felt safe dating men, he said.
On December 9, police found Millane’s body stuffed in a suitcase and buried in a forest to the west of Auckland city.
Speaking on the steps of the court, Detective Inspector Scott Beard said he felt “rough sex” should not be considered a defence to murder.
“Strangling someone for five to ten minutes until they die is not rough sex,” he said.
“If people are going to use that type of defence, all it actually does is repetitively revictimises the victim and the victim’s family.
“In this case, the Millanes have had to sit through a trial for a number of weeks and their daughter’s background, rightly or wrongly, was out in the public.
“I don’t believe that rough sex should be a defence. I understand why the defence would use it but the bottom line is the individual has killed someone.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered an emotional apology “on behalf of New Zealand” to Millane’s family for the backpacker’s death.
“Your daughter should have been safe here and she wasn’t,” Ardern said.
In mid-January a funeral was held for Millane in her hometown of Wickford, Essex.
The man accused of killing her went on trial in November 2019 at Auckland High Court. Millane’s parents sat through the three weeks of hearings, learning along with the jury explicit details about their daughter’s sex life and gruesome facts surrounding her death.
They heard how the defendant took intimate photos of Millane’s corpse and watched pornography as she lay dead on his floor; that he googled ways to dispose of her body, and set up a tinder date with another woman for the following afternoon – Millane’s 22nd birthday. He contorted Millane’s body inside a brand new suitcase, wheeled it out of the hotel, and left it in the boot of a rental car while he went on that date.
The man bought cleaning products and attempted to scrub Millane’s blood from his hotel room. He drove to a forest, dug a shallow grave with a shovel bought for the purpose, and buried her body in the suitcase.
It was also revealed in court that Millane had a prior interest in BDSM, which the defence used to argue she died after consensual sex went wrong. The defendant claimed he placed his hands around Millane’s neck during sex, but did not intend to kill her.
The jury found the defendant guilty of murder on 22 November.