Warning: Distressing content

Was Grace Millane's death a case of sexual misadventure and an accident, or as the Crown alleges, was she strangled and suffocated by the man now accused of her murder?

A packed courtroom has today listened to two versions of the last hours of the British backpacker and the actions of the 27-year-old man who allegedly murdered her in December last year.

Millane, a university graduate on her OE and travelling around New Zealand, vanished the day before her 22nd birthday, December 1.

Advertisement

Prosecutors opened their case with a detailed timeline of events before and after Millane's death, which included explaining how CCTV footage showed her kissing her alleged killer.

Cameras last showed Millane alive at about 9.40pm on December 1 entering Auckland's CityLife Hotel with the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

The Crown also described the internet activity of the accused, including Google searches for the Waitakere Ranges where Millane's body was eventually found on December 9.

Only two people, however, will know what happened inside the downtown apartment.

The Herald brings you the latest from the trial in the High Court at Auckland:

What police found in the suitcase with Millane's body

3.20pm

Detective Lewis Sin was the next witness to give evidence this afternoon.

Sin was the officer assigned to Millane's body once it was found inside a suitcase in a shallow grave off Scenic Drive in West Auckland.

Advertisement

He was assigned to the role - which put him in charge of maintaining, securing and guarding the body - before Millane was found.

In court this afternoon Sin explained his part in the investigation into Millane's alleged murder, known as Operation Gourami.

He first saw the suitcase when it was still buried in the ground.

"The pathologist arrived and briefly examined the suitcase, he opened it up and had a look inside and confirmed there were human remains," Sin said.

"I saw part of it … we sealed the suitcase … and we put it in a body bag."

Sin then took over official custody of the body and called the Coroner to organise an undertaker to come and transport the body - which had not been identified formally as Millane - to the morgue.

The undertaker arrived at 7pm and Sin assisted him to move the body bag.

Millane's body was taken to the Auckland City Hospital mortuary about 7.20pm.

From there the body bag was placed in a secure fridge and double locked, with Sin holding the key.

A post mortem examination was scheduled for the next morning.

"I returned at 8am and unlocked the fridge and moved the body out," Sin said.

"The post mortem began at 9am."

Dr Simon Stables was the first to open the case bearing Millane's body.

"There was a naked female lying inside the suitcase. She was in a foetal position, her head was facing down towards where the wheels were," Sin said.

"She had long hair, untied, her eyes were closed … her feet were tucked in.

"She had black nail polish on her toes."

Sin said her body was "very tight" in the suitcase.

"It was just fitting inside, it was tightly packed," he told Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey.

Millane's body was then taken from the suitcase and placed on the pathologist's examination table.

Sin said there were various items in the suitcase with Millane including a pair of hoop earrings.

"There was not clothing," Sin said.

"No cellphone located … and a small metal tag that said 'freedom' ... it was stuck to her back."

The items were collected, bagged and numbered and taken to the police station with the other evidence relating to Operation Gourami.

The suitcase and a plastic liner inside it were also collected.

Sin decided to keep those completely separate from the other evidential exhibits to avoid any possible contamination.

Shallow grave - cop describes site where Grace Millane's body was found

2.50pm

Detective Evan Ingley was the officer in charge of the scene on Scenic Drive in West Auckland's Waitakere Ranges, an area of dense bush.

This morning he spoke of how he located the potential crime scene and the steps he took to secure the area and pinpoint where Millane's body may have been buried.

This afternoon, he went into further detail about what police and forensic experts did at the scene and how the discovered the shallow hole Millane was buried in.

Ron Mansfield, lawyer for the accused. Photo / Michael Craig
Ron Mansfield, lawyer for the accused. Photo / Michael Craig

Ingley said once the police team got into the scene, soil was transferred out of the area in buckets.

Buckets were moved one by one until searchers reached a suitcase which contained Millane's body.

The jury were given photographs which showed the suitcase in the ground, dug out and ready for extraction.

Police, Ingley said, took the suitcase out of the hole and placed it on a clear plastic sheet on top of a stretcher.

It was then carried into a secure tent and placed onto a clean and clear table where a forensic pathologist opened part of the suitcase.

"I could see a small area of what I thought was flesh and from that point he told me he believed there was human remains in the suitcase," Ingley said.

According to Ingley the suitcase Millane was concealed in was 460mm wide and 700mm long.

It fit "quite tight" into the shallow grave, he said.

Ingley said the search of the site of the crude grave also turned up a spade mark and track marks from a vehicle which were measured, photographed and recorded.

Insects were taken from the scene for etymological testing and any other items not supposed to be in the bush were collected as potential evidence.

Each item was individually bagged, numbered and collected.

British backpacker Grace Millane died on December 1. Photo / Supplied
British backpacker Grace Millane died on December 1. Photo / Supplied

Earlier, Ingley talked of polling data which showed the accused's phone had been in the Scenic Drive area.

"My task was to drive around Scenic Drive and just check for any obvious areas that a car could have parked," he said.

Ingley explained the site had a gravel area "somewhere you could park up and rest".

The spot was "reasonably large", he said.

Detective Inspector Scott Beard, the officer in charge of the investigation, and other police also arrived at the scene.

"Within minutes the search and rescue team arrived," Ingley told the court.

After speaking to the search and rescue co-ordinator he ascertained who was the best person to "track into the bush".

A constable was chosen and told he was "the only person to go in".

"If you identify anything of interest you're to take photographs, I'm not going in with you, I don't want to contaminate the scene," Ingley said he told the constable.

"At that point I wasn't sure where Grace might be, I wasn't sure what evidence might be on the ground."

Ingley said there was an "obvious" entry point to the bush area which was "slightly trampled".

"He came back, showed me some photographs and said there was… an area of bush that had been disturbed," Ingley relayed.

"To me it looked like the bush had been broken… it was quite clear it was different from the other areas of bush.

"I closed down the entire scene ... I asked everyone who didn't need to be there to leave."

Scene guards and a police photographer were called as well as forensic scientists.

Millane's body was buried in a shallow grave about 10-15m from a car park, Ingley said.

Grace Millane's parents David and Gillian arrive at court today, accompanied by Detective Inspector Scott Beard, left. Photo / Michael Craig
Grace Millane's parents David and Gillian arrive at court today, accompanied by Detective Inspector Scott Beard, left. Photo / Michael Craig

He could see small areas where the clay on the ground had been overturned.
Ingley soon identified a "gravesite".

Trial halted as accused takes ill

12.19pm

The trial was halted briefly as the accused may have fallen ill and has left the courtroom under escort from two security guards.

One of his lawyers, Ron Mansfield, told Justice Simon Moore that he would make inquiries to see what was happening with his client.

Ian Brookie, lawyer for the accused. Photo / Michael Craig
Ian Brookie, lawyer for the accused. Photo / Michael Craig

He returned to the courtroom looking physically uncomfortable. But the trial will continue.

Grace Millane's father reveals her last message home

Grace Millane's father David has given evidence at the trial for his daughter's alleged killer.

His evidence was read by Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey.

David Millane was present in court with his wife Gillian.

As his statement was read Gillian Millane was audibly emotional.

In his statement David Millane said his daughter was in contact at least once a day during her travels but that contact ceased on December 1 - a day before her 22nd birthday.

He said Millane and her two brothers were also in constant contact via various social media and messaging apps.

British backpacker Grace Millane was visiting New Zealand as part of her OE. Photo / Supplied
British backpacker Grace Millane was visiting New Zealand as part of her OE. Photo / Supplied

The last message she sent her family was of a Christmas tree at SkyCity on 1 December.

Millane had graduated from the University of Lincoln with an advertising and marketing degree soon before she went on a year-long solo OE.

Her father said she got on with people old and young and was an engaging young woman.

"She was savvy about people in general and she was not overly trusting of people, but not overly shy."

He said she had two serious boyfriends, amicably breaking up with the second before she left on her trip.

"She was meticulous about her planning… she was going to be away for a year with a plan to be back in the UK in June 2019 where we had a wedding in the family," David Millane's statement said.

She travelled to South America - Chile, Patagonia and Peru - to start.

"We heard from Grace virtually every day… she enjoyed sharing her adventures with us," her father said.

She arrived in Auckland on November 20 and touched base with her family, speaking to her mother about the backpackers where she was staying and sharing that she had purchased a gift for her brother's young daughter.

Grace Millane arrived in Auckland on November 20 as part of her OE. Photo / Supplied
Grace Millane arrived in Auckland on November 20 as part of her OE. Photo / Supplied

The contact with her family when she got to her new location was "indicative" of her nature - responsible and communicative with her family.

"She was in good spirits," her father said.

"I did not know specifically Grace was dating online… I don't believe children tell their parents everything, and nor should they, necessarily."

'Put simply this was an accident, it was not murder,' defence says

The accused's lawyer Ian Brookie told the jury Millane died not from a murder but "a perfectly ordinary, casual sexual encounter between a young couple".

"Ms Millane died as a result of what they consensually engaged in," Brookie said during his opening statement.

"An act designed to enhance their sexual pleasure that went wrong and she died as a result."

Brian Dickey and Robin McCoubrey, Crown prosecutors. Photo / Michael Craig
Brian Dickey and Robin McCoubrey, Crown prosecutors. Photo / Michael Craig

Brookie said the events which led to the young British woman's death came with her "knowledge, encouragement and only with the goal of sexual pleasure".

"The defence is not doing this in anyway to suggest that Ms Millane is to blame, she is not to blame," the defence lawyer said.

While his client's actions may have caused Millane's death, Brookie said the accused was also not to blame, "although he may blame himself".

"Put simply this was an accident, it was not murder."

What the accused did after Millane died may have been motivated by the fear or that he would not be believed, Brookie said.

"You may not well like the actions that [the accused] took and that's understandable," he said, but added it was not likely to inform the jury about what the defendant was trying to do and also thinking when Millane died.

"The cause of death here is not an issue in general terms," Brookie said.

But the accused in "no way intended to cause any harm to her", the barrister added.

"It's just not as simple as what the Crown is saying to you.

"Is there really only one explanation for what is happening or is there another way of looking at it?"

As Brookie made his statement to the jury the accused started to cry.

He used a tissue to wipe his eyes, sniffed and blew his nose as his lawyer outlined Millane's final night, saying they were "both keen to give it a go - and they did".

The accused clenched his jaw as Brookie spoke of his sexual encounter with Millane before she died.

Grace Millane's body was found in a section of bush just 10m off Scenic Drive in West Auckland's Waitakere Ranges on December 9. Photo / Supplied
Grace Millane's body was found in a section of bush just 10m off Scenic Drive in West Auckland's Waitakere Ranges on December 9. Photo / Supplied

As Brookie said the accused "may blame himself" but was "not to blame" he became visibly and audibly more emotional, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand.

He also lowered his head to shield his face from the media and public gallery.

The accused's defence team also includes well-known Auckland lawyer Ron Mansfield.

Junior barrister Claire Farquhar is also assisting the defence.

Their client will continue to have interim name suppression throughout the trial – the reasons for which are also suppressed and cannot be reported by media.

Crown provides timeline of Millane's death

Prosecutor Robin McCoubrey opened the case for the Crown today and said much of what the jurors may already know about Millane's disappearance is not disputed.

"What is in dispute is how she died," he told the seven women and five men of the jury, who were selected on Monday.

Most of the events leading up to Millane going missing were captured by CCTV, McCoubrey said.

The cameras showed her and the accused being "plainly comfortable, plainly enjoying themselves" after earlier meeting on the internet dating app Tinder, he said.

The footage also showed the two of them kissing before entering the accused's apartment at about 9.40pm on December 1.

"But of course it's what happened inside the room that counts," McCoubrey said.

"Grace can't tell us."

McCoubrey, who was once a London barrister, says the accused's version of events is a fabrication.

The alleged killer gave a police interview on December 8 last year.

Reading a section of the transcribed interview to the court, McCoubrey said the accused claimed he and Millane had rough sex in the hotel room before he passed out in the shower.

"I crawled back into bed … I thought Grace had left," the accused told police during the interview.

When he woke, he said, Grace was "lying on the floor, I saw she had blood coming from her nose".

McCoubrey told the jury a pathologist will give evidence later in the trial and testify that Millane died from sustained pressure to the neck.

Her body also showed bruising to her chest and upper arms, the prosecutor said.

McCoubrey told the jury that the accused also made several Google searches in the early hours of December 2.

These included searches for the Waitakere Ranges and for "hottest fire" at 1.35am.

"It's plain that Ms Millane is dead at this point," McCoubrey said.

"He is trying to find a place to hide her body … he is trying to find a means of disposing of her body.

"There can be no reason for making those searches if Ms Millane was alive, unless there was a plan to kill her."

At 1.41am the accused then watched some porn, McCoubrey said, and also took several intimate photos of Millane's body.

McCoubrey said the alleged killer would later buy several cleaning products, including hiring a Rug Doctor machine to clean the carpet and "remove the blood found in his room".

"Only two people know what happened in that room," McCoubrey said.

"One of them can't tell us and the other one hasn't told the truth about what happened."

A suitcase was also bought from a downtown Auckland Warehouse by the accused, McCoubrey said, before Millane's body was contorted to fit inside.

After hiring a rental car, her body was then transported and buried in a shallow grave in the Waitakere Ranges.

The accused, McCoubrey said, also met another Tinder date while Millane's body was still in the hotel room.

The court heard the accused recalled to his date a story of a man who was imprisoned for manslaughter after he was having "kinky or rough sex but that it all went wrong".

McCoubrey said the woman, who will give evidence later in the trial, recalled the accused being calm and the Crown believed the alleged killer may have been "testing out a version of events that he may later have to rely on later".

During the opening address, the accused killer – dressed in a white shirt and blue suit – sat silently in the dock and at times looked at those in the public gallery.

Millane's parents, David and Gillian, arrived at the courthouse today alongside the officer in charge of the investigation Detective Inspector Scott Beard.

The couple, who arrived in New Zealand at the weekend, sat in the front row with a view of the man accused of murdering their only daughter.

The prosecution of the accused is being led by Auckland's Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey, who is also assisted by a third Crown lawyer, Litia Tuiburelevu.

Judge's warning to jury

When the day's proceeding began, Justice Simon Moore reminded the jury of the importance of not talking to anyone outside their number and not allowing themselves to be drawn into external discussions.

"This is a court of law, not a court of morals … The problem with letting emotion intrude is that it impairs judgment and it is your judgment that is essential," Justice Moore said.
He also said there was an "absolute prohibition" on making any personal inquiries on the internet or social media about the case.

There are more than 20 journalists, photographers and television camera operators in the courtroom to cover the case for local and international media.

The trial, which is expected to last four to five weeks, continues.