Warning: Distressing content

"Grace can't tell us."

With those words Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey began laying out the case against the man accused of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane.

The evidence included the discovery of the young woman's body, which had been stuffed into a Warehouse suitcase and buried in a shallow grave in the Waitākere Ranges in West Auckland.

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It would also include CCTV footage of the pair shot in central Auckland only hours before she vanished.

But how Millane died is very much disputed and will be pivotal during the murder trial, which began yesterday in the High Court at Auckland.

Those who packed into courtroom 11 on Parliament St listened to two distinct versions of the last hours of Millane and the actions of the 27-year-old man who allegedly killed 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.

CCTV last showed Millane alive about 9.40pm that day entering Auckland's CityLife Hotel with the accused, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Her body was eventually found on December 9 in the Waitākere Ranges.

Only two people, however, were in a position to know exactly what happened inside the downtown apartment that night.

"Grace can't tell us," McCoubrey told the jury yesterday.

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The other sat in the High Court dock in a white shirt and blue suit. He was visibly upset and in tears for much of the opening addresses and at one point had to leave the courtroom - halting the trial - because he was physically unwell.

Prosecutor Robin McCoubrey told the jury the accused had strangled and murdered Grace Millane. Photo / Michael Craig
Prosecutor Robin McCoubrey told the jury the accused had strangled and murdered Grace Millane. Photo / Michael Craig

Millane's alleged killer had given a police interview on December 8 last year, parts of which McCoubrey read to the court.

The accused claimed he and Millane, who had met on the dating app Tinder and drank heavily that night, 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.

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

But McCoubrey told the jury this was all a fabrication - a lie the accused had concocted.

The prosecutor, a former London barrister, said a pathologist would give evidence later in the trial about how Millane died from sustained pressure to the neck.

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

Many of the events leading up to Millane's disappearance and death, however, had been captured by CCTV.

The cameras showed her and the accused enjoying themselves at bars and eateries near SkyCity, and kissing before entering the accused's apartment.

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

Lawyer Ian Brookie, who is leading the defence team, told the jury Millane died not from a murder but from "a perfectly ordinary, casual sexual encounter between a young couple".

More specifically "an act designed to enhance their sexual pleasure that went wrong", he said.

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

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

The accused's defence team is led by Ian Brookie, who told the jury Grace Millane died from an act of sexual pleasure
The accused's defence team is led by Ian Brookie, who told the jury Grace Millane died from an act of sexual pleasure "that went wrong". Photo / Michael Craig

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."

But McCoubrey said the Crown would also rely on evidence about the accused's actions after Millane died.

He claimed several internet searches were made by the accused after her death in the early hours of December 2.

These included searches for the Waitākere 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."

The accused also searched for pornography and took several intimate photos of Millane's body, McCoubrey said.

Later, the court heard, the accused bought several cleaning products, including hiring a Rug Doctor machine, and a suitcase which Millane's body was contorted to fit inside.

However, McCoubrey said, the accused went on another Tinder date while Millane's body was still in the apartment.

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 alleged killer may have been "testing out a version of events that he may later have to rely on".

The woman will give evidence later in the trial.

After hiring a rental car, the accused then transported Millane's body to Scenic Drive and buried the suitcase in a shallow grave in the Waitākere Ranges, the court heard.

Yesterday afternoon, the jury heard from the police officers who found Millane's body after polling data from the accused's phone led them to the area.

"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," Detective Lewis Sin said.

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

"She had black nail polish on her toes."

However, Brookie said what his client did after Millane died may have been motivated by fear that he would not be believed.

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

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

As Brookie made his remarks to the jury the accused started to cry, wiping away his tears with a tissue and the back of his hand.

Grace Millane's parents, David and Gillian Millane, arrive at the High Court accompanied by Detective Inspector Scott Beard (left). Photo / Michael Craig
Grace Millane's parents, David and Gillian Millane, arrive at the High Court accompanied by Detective Inspector Scott Beard (left). Photo / Michael Craig

Millane's parents, David and Gillian, were also seated at the back of the courtroom yesterday with a clear view of the accused.

A statement from the young woman's father was the first piece of Crown evidence and was read by McCoubrey.

In it, David Millane said his daughter was in contact at least once a day during her travels but that contact ceased on December 1.

The last message she sent her family was of a Christmas tree at SkyCity that day.

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

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

As the statement was read Gillian Millane was audibly emotional.

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