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'You have ripped a hole in my heart' - mother of backpacker Grace Millane as man jailed

Defence lawyers had claimed the death was accidental

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Grace Millane inside a hotel lift with her murderer (Auckland City Police)

Grace Millane inside a hotel lift with her murderer (Auckland City Police)

Grace Millane inside a hotel lift with her murderer (Auckland City Police)

The mother of murdered backpacker Grace Millane told her killer she is tormented over "the terror and pain she must have experienced at your hands".

The New Zealand man (28) convicted of murdering Miss Millane has been sentenced to life in prison with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, strangled Ms Millane in a hotel in Auckland after meeting her via Tinder on December 1, 2018 - the day before her 22 birthday.

Her body was later found buried in a suitcase in a forested area outside the city in New Zealand.

Mrs Millane, said: "Her tragic life, cut short by your wilful, cruel actions.

"You took it upon yourself to murder my beautiful Grace, an innocent young lady.

"On a daily basis, I torment myself over what you did to my Grace.

"The terror and pain, she must have experienced at your hands.

"As a mother, I would have done anything to change places with her.

"I sit, full of guilt, knowing I couldn't help her, that I should have been there.

"She died terrified and alone in a room with you.

"You have ripped a hole in my heart, one that will never be repaired.

"You walked into our lives and destroyed Grace, in the pursuit of your own sexual gratification.

Pausing, and visibly upset, she continued: "Now my family will never be the same.

"So many other innocent people, including your own family, have had their world destroyed.

"I will miss my darling Grace, until the last breath in my body leaves me."

Grace's brother, David Millane, echoed his mother's sentiments, and described his family as "ripped apart" when Grace was reported missing on December 2018.

He told the court via the video-link: "The following weeks were the hardest and worst weeks of my life.

"I remember taking the phone call from my dad, telling me that Grace's body had been found, and I just remember I was instantly sick.

"Ever since December 2018, I cannot close my eyes without reliving that month of not knowing what happened to my sister.

"The thought of how scared she must have been (...) I could have done nothing to help her.

"As an older brother, I felt a duty to protect my little sister, but there was nothing I could do, I was helpless and lost."

The defendant claimed Ms Millane died accidentally after the pair engaged in rough sex that went too far.

A jury in November rejected that argument and found the man guilty.

Jailing him for life with a minimum term of 17 years, Mr Justice Simon Moore told the murderer his actions amounted to "conduct that underscores a lack of empathy and sense of self-entitlement and objectification".

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."

Grace Millane met the man through the dating app Tinder and went out for drinks with him before returning to his hotel apartment in central Auckland, where he killed her.

Grace Millane death
Grace Millane (Auckland City Police)

He stuffed her body into a suitcase, drove to a forest and buried it in a shallow grave, where police found it a week later.

The name of the 28-year-old man is being kept secret for now by court order, a restriction that is sometimes imposed in the New Zealand judicial system.

Defence lawyers had claimed the death was accidental after the pair engaged in consensual sex that went too far.

A jury in November rejected that argument and found the man guilty.

Murder typically comes with a life sentence in New Zealand, so at stake at Friday’s sentencing at the Auckland High Court was the number of years the killer would serve in jail before becoming eligible for parole.

Prosecutors had argued for 17 years while defence lawyers said 12 was reasonable.

Grace Millane death
The CityLife Hotel in Auckland (Ben Cooper/PA)

Judge Simon Moore ended up agreeing with prosecutors.

Earlier, the victim’s mother Gillian Millane told the court viavideo link that the killer had ripped a hole in her heart by stealing her daughter’s life.

“She died terrified and alone in a room with you,” Gillian Millane said, according to the New Zealand Herald.

The man in the dock kept his head bowed, rubbed his face and had his eyes closed, the newspaper reported.

Grace Millane’s death shocked many in New Zealand, which prides itself on welcoming tourists and where many people travel abroad themselves.

Hundreds of people attended candlelight vigils after she died, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke about New Zealanders feeling “hurt and shame” that she was killed in their country.

PA Media