British backpacker Grace Millane was murdered by a man she met on Tinder who then photographed her dead body and went on another date while her corpse lay in his flat, a court in New Zealand heard today.
Jurors were told the Briton, who was on a gap year travelling the world and vanished in the early hours of her 22nd birthday, had been strangled until she bled through the nose.
Her killer spent an hour after she died researching how to dispose of her body, watching hardcore porn and taking intimate photos of her corpse, the court heard.
The defendant, a 27-year-old who cannot be named for legal reasons and who has pleaded not guilty to murder, admits she died in his flat and he put her body in a suitcase and buried it in woods, jurors heard.
But his defence lawyer said the death was an accident and she was killed during consensual sex gone wrong after asking the man to put his hands around her neck.
It was ‘understandable’ if the jury did not like what the defendant did after the death, but it does not make him a murderer, the court heard.
Grace Millane, 22, vanished during the early hours of her 22nd birthday while on a round-the-world trip in New Zealand. Her body was later found inside a suitcase, buried in the woods
The parents of Grace Millane, David and Gillian Millane, arrived at the Auckland High Court
Miss Millane’s body was found in woods near Auckland a week after she was last seen in a hotel in the city centre on December 2.
Her father wiped aside a tear as he heard his daughter’s body was found twisted inside a suitcase ‘in the foetal position’.
Her mother clutched a tissue over her mouth the court heard earrings and a small metal tag inscribed with the word ‘freedom’ were also found inside the suitcase.
David and Gillian travelled to court from the family home in Wickford, Essex, and watched on from the front row of the public gallery during today’s hearing.
They often stared at the accused, who broke down in tears and was forced to take a break from the dock as evidence was read out.
Opening his case at Auckland High Court, prosecutor Robin McCoubrey said the brunette was seen on CCTV kissing the man in a bar and walking hand-in-hand with him to a city-centre hotel where he lived.
Miss Millane had met the man on dating app Tinder, they visited a number of Auckland bars together and she had texted a friend in Britain to say the date was going well, the jury heard.
Mr McCoubrey said: ‘They were plainly comfortable in one another’s company that evening,’ referring to security footage that showed them together.
‘Grace was clearly enjoying the date at that stage. There’s clear evidence that both parties anticipated sexual activity.’
But she would never be seen alive again.
The family of murdered British backpacker Grace Millane (far right). From left to right: Father David Millan, brother Michael Millane, mother Gillian Millane, brother Declan Millane and Grace
Mr McCoubrey said the defendant initially admitted meeting Miss Millane, but told police she left him before reaching his apartment.
He changed his story when presented with CCTV showing the pair of them entering the CityLife hotel together, jurors heard.
Mr McCoubrey said only two people knew what had happened in the room and one of them was dead.
The defendant, in a recorded police interview, gave police a detailed account of how the pair had sex and Miss Millane had taken charge, Mr McCoubrey said.
‘She jumped on top and started showing me what she wanted to do,’ the suspect said. ‘She held me around my neck and pushed down,’ he said, indicating it had heightened Miss Millane’s sexual pleasure.
‘We started having I guess more violent sex. We ended up on the floor and we kept going on the floor,’ according to a statement read to the jury by Mr McCoubrey. He said the sex involved hitting and biting.
‘She told me to hold her arms tighter, and then she told me to hold her throat and um, go harder.’
‘Then at that point we’d finished, so I went into the shower, cause at that point I was sweating.’
The defendant, said Mr McCoubrey, had given no explanation for how Miss Millane died.
‘All I remember is falling asleep in the shower,’ he had told detectives in his interview, ‘and then waking up. I crawled back into bed. Initially I thought Grace had left.
‘And I was obviously asleep in bed. I woke up the next day and I saw that she was lying on the floor. I saw that she had blood coming from her nose.’
Grace Millane’s (pictured) family, who flew out to New Zealand to collect the body, previously paid tribute to the talented artist
Mr McCoubrey said that, rather than raising the alarm after Miss Millane died, at 1:30am on the night of her death, the defendant searched the internet for the Waitakere Ranges, the area where her body was later found, and the phrase ‘the hottest fire’.
Other search terms included ‘large bags near me’ and ‘rigor mortis’, the court heard.
‘It’s plain that Miss Millane is dead at that point,’ said Mr McCoubrey. ‘What the defendant was doing here is trying to find a place to hide her body.’
‘You would expect somebody to call for emergency assistance at that stage and that you would be distraught about what happened,’ Mr McCoubrey said.
‘But (the accused) had plainly gone to some lengths to break any forensic links between him and Ms Millane.’
He added: ‘Strangling someone to death with your hands isn’t inadvertent. All of the evidence points away from an accident.’
Mr McCoubrey said that in the hours after Miss Millane died the defendant visited the Porn Hub website where his first search was for a ‘very young teen’ video.
The 27-year-old also took seven intimate photos of Miss Millane’s body and manipulated her to get the shots he wanted including ones of her vagina and anus, Mr McCoubrey said.
By 7:50am that morning – Miss Millane’s 22nd birthday – the defendant was back on Tinder, Mr McCoubrey said, arranging another date with a second woman while the Briton lay dead on his floor.
Grace Millane’s parents David (centre) and Gillian (right) arrive with Detective Inspector Scott Beard (left) at Auckland’s High Court
Miss Millane’s body was found in a wooded area near Auckland a week after she was last seen at a hotel in the city centre on December 2
That afternoon, after renting a small car, and buying a large black suitcase, he ‘calmly, coldly and methodically’ hired a machine called a Rug Doctor to clean his carpet, telling staff at the rental shop it was for a spillage of red wine, jurors were told.
The lawyer said that, at about 4pm, the defendant met the second woman, whose identity is protected, in the trendy Auckland suburb of Ponsonby.
They shared ‘a couple of drinks’, said Mr McCoubrey, and the defendant told the woman a story about someone he may have known who had been jailed for manslaughter after a woman died during rough sex which had ‘all gone wrong’.
This, said the prosecutor, showed the alleged killer was ‘testing out a version of events that he may later have to rely on.’
But, said Mr McCoubrey, the woman told police the suspect had appeared calm. ‘He doesn’t seem concerned by the presence of the dead body in his apartment,’ he said.
Earlier, Mr McCoubrey told the jury Miss Millane had died from ‘sustained pressure to the neck’.
He said a pathologist who conducted a post mortem had found a bruise on the left side of her neck and others ‘consistent with restraint’ on her upper chest and upper arms.
Mr McCoubrey said the accused’s account given in a police interview did not describe anything ‘particularly dangerous’.
‘He does not say that any injury took place or even that there was any discomfort on her part,’ said the prosecutor.
‘It is the Crown’s case that Ms Millane was strangled by (the defendant),’ he added.
Grace Millane (left) with her mother Gillian. The 22-year-old, from Wickford, Essex, was on a round-the-world trip when she arrived in New Zealand last November
The scene where the body of British tourist Grace Millane was found by New Zealand police in the Waitakere Ranges
The lawyer said that although the Crown had to prove how Miss Millane died, if the jury accepted the accused had been reckless it would be enough to convict him of murder.
A pathologist told the jury of seven women and five men that the cause of death was ‘pressure to the neck’.
Before Ms Millane’s body was forensically examined it was taken to Auckland Morgue, detective constable Lewis Sin told the court.
Her body was ‘in the foetal position’ and she had been wearing black nail polish, he added.
Defence counsel Ian Brookie said the 27-year-old would not challenge the prosecution case that he had watched a string of pornographic videos, taken elaborate measures to dispose of the body and gone on another Tinder date while Miss Millane lay dead in his room.
But he insisted that, although he did not blame Miss Millane for her own death, it was an accident, not murder, ‘when an act designed to enhance their sexual pleasure went wrong and she died as a result’.
‘What’s important here is that they were both keen to give it a go and they did,’ said Mr Brookie.
The trial is taking place at the Auckland High Court, and is expected to last approximately five weeks
Mr Brookie said his client admitted he bought a suitcase into which he crammed Miss Millane’s dead body and used a hire car to transport it to dense woodland where he buried it.
The defendant also bought cleaning products and hired the machine to clean her blood from his carpet, and later lied to police about leaving her alive and well on the street after sharing drinks on their date.
But Mr Brookie said: ‘The evidence of these events is unlikely to assist you much with what happened earlier.
‘What it establishes is what he did when he was confronted with this shocking and unexpected death.
‘Some people act badly and are unable to confront the situation responsibly.
‘I ask you only to keep an open mind about this, listen to the evidence, make of it what you will, then make up your mind. It’s too soon to do it now.’
Mr Brookie said the defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, ‘accepts that his actions did cause Miss Millane’s death.’
Justice Simon Moore at the Auckland High Court on November 6
But he added Miss Millane dying was an ‘unforeseen and unintended consequence. ‘It’s an accident as part of casual sex between two people who were intoxicated.’
Mr Brookie said it was widely recognised that restriction of the throat was a practice that ‘can enhance sexual pleasure’ and with the right technique could be acted out safely.
The defence would be forced to go into detail about both Miss Millane and the defendant’s sexual history and practices with other people, said Mr Brookie.
‘The defence is not doing this in any way to suggest that Miss Millane is to blame, she is not to blame, but because the Crown say he is to blame, we need to show you why he is not.
‘He is certainly not criminally responsible,’ said Mr Brookie.
The defendant, wearing a dark suit and open necked white shirt, was allowed to take a 15-minute break from dock after appearing to break into tears while the timeline of Miss Millane’s death was heard by the jury.
Her parents, both wearing poppy badges in their lapels, appeared to stare long and hard at him as he was first led into the dock and they sat 20ft away in the front row of the packed public gallery.
Miss Millane arrived in New Zealand last November on a round-the-world trip having recently graduated.
The case, which is due to last five week, continues.