Gillian Millane told the man who brutally murdered her only daughter that she would do anything to change places with her "beautiful young Grace".

She spoke through tears yesterday as the 28-year-old killer was sentenced and said he had stolen Grace's future and robbed her family of their memories.

Grace went missing in Auckland during her OE from Britain on the eve of her 22nd birthday.

The world would learn she died terrified and alone in a dark room with the man who murdered her.

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"The terror and pain she must have experienced at your hands, as a mother I would have done anything to change places with her," Gillian Millane said.

Grace's killer was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 17 years for strangling the young British backpacker to death in his downtown Auckland apartment in December 2018.

The killer, who cannot be named, has interim suppression which will be reviewed by the court at a later date. Photo / Dean Purcell
The killer, who cannot be named, has interim suppression which will be reviewed by the court at a later date. Photo / Dean Purcell

Despite the man being found guilty by a jury last November, Justice Simon Moore and the High Court was told the killer maintains his innocence.

Defence lawyer Ian Brookie told the Weekend Herald a decision was yet to be made on an appeal.

The killer still cannot be named, however, his suppression order is not permanent and will be reviewed at a later date.

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Gillian told the murderer via a live video link from England: "Any life sentence you will receive will not match the life sentence without my Grace, but I will do my utmost to make sure that no other family has to go through what we have endured."

Grace, she said, was "my very best friend".

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"We laughed together, we made memories that we will treasure forever."

Focus: Grace Millane's family read their victim impact statements. Video / Chris Tarpey

The recent university graduate was travelling the world when she "matched" with her killer on the dating app Tinder. The pair met near a Christmas tree on December 1 under Auckland's Sky Tower before spending a night drinking.

She was last seen alive on CCTV with her killer, walking towards his CityLife hotel room.

During his sentencing remarks, Justice Moore asked the question which many will continue to ponder.

"Exactly what happened from the moment Miss Millane first stepped into [the apartment] we will never know.

"Only two people were witness to those events and one is not alive to tell us. ... We do not know if Miss Millane struggled but it is likely she did."

Gillian said: "You took it upon yourself to murder my beautiful young Grace."

She remembered the phone call no parent ever wants to take. It came from her husband David.

"The one [call] that changed my life forever," she said. "I was one week post op when my nightmare began."

Gillian had earlier been diagnosed with breast cancer and Grace, she said, had been her rock throughout her treatment.

"You have ripped a hole in my heart," she told the killer.

"So many innocent people, including your own family, have had their world destroyed. I want you to know I don't think about you because if I did that would mean I care about you and I simply don't."

Grace Millane died terrified and alone in a dark room with her killer, her mum said. Photo / Supplied
Grace Millane died terrified and alone in a dark room with her killer, her mum said. Photo / Supplied

Grace's brother Declan Millane said his sister was a "beautiful soul".

The weeks after her death were the hardest of his life, he said through tears.

"As an older brother I felt a duty to protect my young sister but there was nothing I could do. I was helpless, I was lost ... I couldn't sleep for months.

"This person did not just take Grace's life, he took away a piece of my life as well ... I will miss my little sister for the rest of life and this pain will never go away."

Sister-in-law Victoria Millane, who is married to Grace's other brother Michael, said she would forever miss the little sister she had always longed for.

Sadly, she recalled, Grace was going to be a bridesmaid at her and Michael's wedding last year.

Nearly three weeks of trial, 39 witnesses, and just over five hours of jury deliberation returned a unanimous guilty verdict in the case of murdered British backpacker Grace Millane.

The court also heard about the killer's life.

It was a "difficult and traumatic upbringing" after he was cut off from his mother and brother at an early age.

He was also isolated from family and his peer support networks.

The Herald asked the killer's father, who was at the hearing and much of the trial, what he thought of the sentence and when he last spoke to his son.

However, he simply shook his head as he wiped away tears and left the court precinct.

But rehabilitation remains a "real prospect" for the killer, Brookie said.

"There is no question that he has issues and he recognises that."

Crown prosecutors Brian Dickey and Litia Tuiburelevu leave the High Court after the killer's sentencing. Photo / Dean Purcell
Crown prosecutors Brian Dickey and Litia Tuiburelevu leave the High Court after the killer's sentencing. Photo / Dean Purcell

Auckland Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey said he and the prosecution team were happy with the 17 year non-parole sentence.

There was a high-level of cruelty, callousness and brutality in Grace's murder, he said.

"Manual strangulation, the act which must have killed Miss Millane. It is a very close, personal and callous thing to do to another person.

"It was a violent death for Grace Millane."

The killer, Dickey added, eroticised Grace's death by taking intimate photographs of her naked body and searching for internet pornography.

Justice Moore said he was satisfied the photos of Millane were taken after she was dead.

Brookie, however, as he had done during the trial, continued to deny the photos were taken after Grace's death.

But the barrister said there was no dispute his client's first police interview was all "a lie".

In the killer's second police interview he finally confessed to Grace dying in his apartment before also telling police where he buried her body in the Waitākere Ranges.

Tributes lie in an area of bush on Scenic Drive in the Waitākere Ranges where Grace Millane's body was found. Photo / Dean Purcell
Tributes lie in an area of bush on Scenic Drive in the Waitākere Ranges where Grace Millane's body was found. Photo / Dean Purcell

Despite this, Justice Moore gave no credit for the admission.

"In my view you can claim little credit for showing the police where Miss Millane's body was buried. At the trial we heard that the police, through cellphone polling off your phone, were already close on your heels."

The judge also told the killer he had "tailored" his story to match not only what he already knew of the police investigation but also what he knew police would likely uncover.

"You insisted that Miss Millane's death was some terrible accident arising out of a casual, consensual, sexual encounter involving manual strangulation. You told the police that she was the initiator and that you were 'new to all that sort of stuff'," Justice Moore said.

"I accept that at some point you and Miss Millane must have discussed BDSM practices but any claim that this was somehow novel to you runs contrary to the evidence the jury heard from other women you had met on Tinder; women you told about your sexual preferences, including your liking for rough sex and possibly strangulation."

Justice Simon Moore said exactly what happened to Grace
Justice Simon Moore said exactly what happened to Grace "we will never know". Photo / Dean Purcell

All the experts during the trial agreed bruising found on Grace's arms was consistent with physical restraint, Justice Moore said.

"Manual strangulation is a particularly intimate and intimidating form of physical violence. By definition Miss Millane was at but an arm's length from you. On your account she would have been facing you although I accept the room may have been darkened at the time."

There could, however, be no doubt about Grace's vulnerability, the judge said.

"She trusted you. Her messages to her friend reveal that she believed the lies you told her about yourself.

"You are a large and powerful man. She was diminutive ... You were in a position of total physical dominance."

The actions of the killer after he murdered Grace also showed a complete disregard for her and underscored a total lack of empathy, Justice Moore said.

"It must be relevant to a broader, contextual assessment of callousness, that you also contacted other women and went to a bar with one of them must also be relevant to this assessment."

The killer lied to those he wanted to impress by pretending he was a man of affluence and social standing, the judge said.

Grace Millane's parents Gillian and David talk to the media after the jury delivered its guilty verdict last November. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Grace Millane's parents Gillian and David talk to the media after the jury delivered its guilty verdict last November. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Detective Inspector Scott Beard, the police officer who oversaw the investigation, said no matter what the outcome was yesterday the Millane family "will forever have a life sentence".

He thanked the police staff who were "determined to bring justice for Grace".

Police Commissioner Mike Bush and Police Minister Stuart Nash also praised the officers and prosecutors.

The prosecution team spent some 760 hours working on the case up to December 31, 2019, according to information released to the Herald by Crown Law.

"They jury found him guilty, that's the bottom line. He can maintain his innocence but the jury found him guilty," Beard told journalists outside court.

The disappearance and murder of Grace had captured the world's attention and was a story which just got worse and worse, Beard said.

"It was probably like reading a novel," he said.

But Beard also struggled with the idea that strangling someone until they die was rough sex.

"If people are going to use that type of defence all it actually does is repeatedly re-victimises the victim and the victim's family. In this case the Millanes 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 rough sex should be a defence, [but] I understand why the defence would use it."

Beard said it was up to politicians to debate whether such a defence should be outlawed.

Barrister Ian Brookie was publicly criticised for the
Barrister Ian Brookie was publicly criticised for the "rough sex" defence but praised by Justice Moore for his "strong and competent" approach to the case. Photo / Dean Purcell

White Ribbon also said in a statement the "rough sex defence" was an international issue and there is increasing pressure on Western governments worldwide to ban it.

White Ribbon ambassador Mark Longley, whose daughter Emily was murdered by her boyfriend, said it was "great" Grace's killer would spend a long time behind bars.

"The death of Grace and the women after her must not be in vain. Violence against women, in any form, is wrong and it is up to us men to spread that message," he said.

Brookie, who led a defence team which included Ron Mansfield and Claire Farquhar, has been publicly criticised for using the rough sex defence.

He said yesterday several factors needed to be taken into account when sentencing his client, including that Grace and the murderer had consensual sex while highly intoxicated and engaged in BDSM.

After sentencing the killer, Justice Moore praised Brookie and said his defence was entirely proper and run in a "strong and competent fashion".

"It was your duty and the duty of those who also represented him to present the defence that you did," the judge said.

Justice Moore also reminded those in the courtroom that life imprisonment for the killer means exactly that - life behind bars.