Grace Millane murder trial: First week of evidence and allegations

In courtroom 11 of the Auckland High Court, a jury of seven women and five men spent this week listening to evidence in the trial of the 27-year-old man accused of killing Grace Millane.

The British backpacker was found dead in the Waitakere Ranges on December 9 last year - a week after she went missing on her 22nd birthday and a day after a man was arrested for her murder.

He plead not guilty in January, setting up the November trial which is expected to last four weeks. The first week of the trial saw the jury empanelled, opening statements presented, Millane's Tinder date examined via CCTV footage, and forensic evidence from a CityLife apartment divulged.

Throughout each witness testimony, Grace's parents, David and Gillian Millane, sat in the public gallery, listening as the final hours of their daughter's life were considered by the people who would determine her alleged killers' fate.

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The first official day of the trial began with the accused - who has a court-ordered name suppression - reaffirming his not-guilty plea. A jury was then selected and presiding Justice Simon Moore gave them with their instructions.

Due to the high-profile nature of the trial, Moore said they should avoid conducting their own online inquiries about the case and not engage in discussions about it outside the court. They were also told to consider the evidence "dispassionately" and without the influence of anything they may have previously heard about the Millane case.

"Anything you have seen or heard outside the courtroom has no place in your deliberations and you must consciously put those aside."

After their task was presented to them, the jury was allowed to leave the court until Wednesday when opening statements were to get underway.

Justice Moore.
Justice Moore. Photo credit: Getty.


In front of an overflowing public gallery, Wednesday began with Moore introducing the jury to different figures around the courtroom. This included the registry, the defendant and the lawyers who would guide the court over the next few weeks. 

Opening statements then began.

Robin McCoubrey presented the address for the Crown, providing a chronology of events the prosecutors claimed led to the young British woman being murdered via sustained pressure to her neck. It was also the first time details were revealed to the public about the Tinder date she and the man went on before heading to CityLife hotel in Auckland Central.

He spoke of the man's actions after allegedly killing Millane - including Google searches, purchases of cleaning products, and a date with another woman.

Prosecutors Brian Dickey and Robin McCoubrey.
Prosecutors Brian Dickey and Robin McCoubrey. Photo credit: Getty.

But in his opening statement, Defence lawyer Ian Brookie said the "post-death conduct" of his client should not be given undue weight as it wouldn't help the jury come to a conclusion about what happened in the CityLife hotel.

Brookie said what happened was a fairly typical encounter between two young people gone wrong. He said Millane accidentally died after a form of rough, consensual sex involving an inexperienced couple.

"[It was an] unforeseen and unintended consequence. Put simply this death was an accident. He certainly didn't murder her," Brookie insisted.

As the Defence put forward its case as to what happened during Millane's final hours, the accused appeared to cry in the dock

After the opening statements, a statement from David Millane was read out by McCoubrey, detailing who Grace was and her interest in travelling.

This was followed by evidence from Detective Evan Ingley, who examined the "gravesite" in the Waitakere Ranges. He said it was found covered in broken ponga tree leaves and foliage.

At the bottom of the shallow burial hole, a suitcase containing human remains was discovered before being transported to a mortuary.

Defence lawyer Ian Brookie.
Defence lawyer Ian Brookie. Photo credit: Getty.


From the moment the pair met, to them entering various Auckland CBD restaurants and bars, their first kiss, and finally walking into a hotel lift, the jury members were shown CCTV footage of the Tinder date Millane and the 27-year-old went on on December 1.

Detective Adam Bicknell, who was in charge of the CCTV footage throughout Operation Gourami, said it appeared the couple looked to be enjoying themselves. Multiple alcoholic drinks - including tequila and cocktails - were purchased throughout the four-hour date, but it wasn't always clear who drank what.

A statement from Ammena Ashcroft, a friend of Millane's was read out. In it, she said she was speaking to her "lovely, outgoing" friend on December 1, during Millane's date. At one point during the date, Millane messaged Ashcroft saying the date was going "really good" and the pair "clicked".

The friend also said she was regularly told about boys Millane was seeing, knew Millane enjoyed foreplay but had never heard about Millane partaking in BDSM. 

Detective Samuel Luker told the court about a scene examination on December 7 at the apartment in the CityLife hotel. 

He spoke of the Google searches found to have been conducted on the accused's phone on December 2, such as for pornography, the Waitakere Ranges, large bags, and cleaning products. When Det Luker discussed intimate photos of a female found to have been taken during the early morning, Grace's mother, Gillian, left the court upset.

The last witness of the day was forensic scientist Dianne Crenfeldt, who spoke of probable blood splatter found around the apartment, such as on a suitcase, the floor, and on the fridge.

Dianne Crendfeldt.
Dianne Crendfeldt. Photo credit: Newshub.


Crenfeldt continued her evidence on Friday and told the jury she believed a clean-up of blood had occurred on the ground in the apartment. Luminol testing also revealed someone had walked around the room with blood on their feet.

Brookie asked if she believed the scene was consistent with a version of events given by the accused that he found a small amount of blood which he cleaned up. She said it was consistent with blood being cleaned up.

An expert in DNA profiling said DNA from one of the bloodstains on the fridge was 500,000 million times more likely to be from the young Brit than any other random person in New Zealand. This was considered an "extremely strong" likelihood - the highest possible.

A toxicologist also told the jury that Millane had no drugs in her system when a post-mortem was undertaken. The exact blood-alcohol level could not be determined due to the decomposing body.

Det Insp Scott Beard, David Millane and Gillian Millane.
Det Insp Scott Beard, David Millane and Gillian Millane. Photo credit: Getty.

Next week

The trial will resume on Monday with more Crown witnesses to take the stand. While the trial was expected to run for four to five weeks, Moore has told the jury it could finish earlier.