Grace Millane murder trial: Live updates as defence's overseas witnesses stream into court

Warning: This article contains graphic content that may disturb some readers

Wednesday will likely mark the final day new evidence is presented in the trial of the man accused of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane as the defence wraps up its case.

In the home stretch of the Auckland High Court trial, the court will hear from defence witnesses around the world, including an expert in sexual and pornographic culture.

The evidence is intended to help the jury of seven women and five men determine what happened inside the CityLife hotel between the night of December 1 and morning of December 2, 2018.

The Crown alleges Millane - a British backpacker travelling New Zealand last year - was murdered by the accused after the pair went on a Tinder date. Pathologist Dr Simon Stables told the court last week that the cause of death was sustained pressure to the neck.

But the defence argues her death was an accident during rough consensual sex involving an inexperienced couple. In a statement to the jury on Tuesday, lawyer Ron Mansfield said the accused had no motive to kill the young woman.

After the defence wraps up its case, both the Crown and defence will present their closing arguments before a summary of the trial by Justice Simon Moore - likely on Friday morning.

On Tuesday, Justice Moore clarified to the jury that they must understand murder can occur in two ways. Either someone intentionally decides to take someone else's life, or death occurs as the result of reckless actions.

More coverage of the trial can be found here.

Live updates have now finished.

2:35pm - A summary of agreed facts has been read out by the defence.

In it, material extracted from Millane's laptop has been shared. This includes multiple chats - containing hundreds of individual messages - Millane had with two people.

They discussed elements of BDSM, including Millane's desire to be restrained and not have control. She also said she was new domination but keen to experiment.

Millane only met one of the men.

Following the summary of facts, the defence closed its case. The jury has now heard all evidence.

Closing statements will be presented on Thursday by the defence and Crown. Justice Simon Moore will then give his summary on Friday before the jury begin their deliberations.

12:55pm - Court has halted for a lunch break.

12:51pm - The next witness is having his evidence provided via a statement.

He says he met with Millane over Whiplr and talked to her on the messaging application Kik in the middle of last year.

At one point during their conversation, the pair discussed BDSM interests. He also explained his past experiences with BDSM and Millane said she was open to this.

The man describes her as being somewhat naive and trusting. He says he saw she was on Whiplr on the morning of December 1 (UK Time).

The pair never met.

12:35pm - He joined FetLife and Whiplr as part of his investigation to understand them better. He said filters can be applied in order to find like-minded people. The communication between members is private.

The witness has finished giving evidence.

12:25pm - A private investigator who travelled to the UK for the defence is now speaking to the jury. He unsuccessfully tried to get several witnesses to appear via audio-visual link in court.

12:20pm - The witness says at one stage he tried to ring Millane on the application WhatsApp. The man did this as he was wanting to know her plans.

She rejected the calls, but later messaged to say she couldn’t speak as she was busy. He took that as a sign she had no immediate desire to meet him.

The witness did, however, contact her again, but he got no response.

The witness has finished giving evidence.

12:07pm - Another witness has taken the stand. 

He also has name suppression and messaged with Millane on the dating application Whiplr last year while she was in New Zealand. 

He says Whiplr is similar to Tinder, but geared more towards "sexual kinks".

He says he only initially knew her by her Whiplr username. He matched her profile picture with a picture of Millane when news of her disappearance surfaced. 

11:44am - Under cross-examination, the man confirms he doesn't remember what exactly happened during sex with Millane. Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey asks if the man would consider the sex "vanilla", and the man says he does.

The witness says no one has ever gone unconscious while he has had his hand on their neck.

He has now finished giving evidence.

11:33am - One night, the pair met, had something to eat and then went to his residence. While there they had sex, which began with what the man considers normal sex.

He says he "potentially" put his hand on Millane's neck during this encounter, but he cannot remember for sure.

But the man tells the jury it is something he often does during sex "because girls usually enjoy it". He doesn't discuss this with women beforehand, however, as he didn't with Millane.

The man then demonstrates for the court how he does it.

11:15am - Court has resumed with a man entering the witness box who met Millane while she was in New Zealand. The 29-year-old - whose name is suppressed - resides in Auckland.

He came to know Millane through his work in Auckland and through discussing her travels. The man eventually began messaging with Millane on Facebook in late November, 2018.

10:28am - Safety should be a focus during breath play, Prof Smith says while being re-examined by defence lawyer Ron Mansfield. But she tells the jury that often "in the heat of the moment, [safe practise] may not happen".

She says sometimes desire overrides someone's sensible head. Mixing alcohol and drugs into the encounter can often mean people get carried away, the professor says.

Prof Smith has now finished giving evidence.

The court is now taking a break. The public gallery is now full.

Grace Millane murder trial: Live updates as defence's overseas witnesses stream into court
Photo credit: Supplied / Getty

10:24am - Prof Smith tells the court that there could be an element of fantasy during chats on social networks like FetLife or Whiplr - which are for people interested in BDSM and kinky sex. She says people often use these platforms to learn about or get reassurance about such practices before they engage in them personally. McCoubrey suggests that just because someone talks about something online, doesn't mean they will end up doing it in real life. Prof Smith says that is possible.

10:21am - Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey reads out some of the statement from Millane's former partner talking about their practice of a form of BDSM. In the statement, read to the court on Tuesday, the man says the pair researched how to safely engage in such practices, including the importance of having a safe word. Prof Smith says these are sensible precautions.

10:12am - Under cross-examination, the professor of sexual cultures tells the jury that BDSM is common in society. But just because someone is interested in BDSM, that does not mean they are interested in the extreme elements of it. BDSM covers a wide spectrum of practices.

10:06am - Prof Smith says people should not be surprised that people discuss rough sex in messages or tell potential partners what they like during sex. She says younger women are more likely to own their sexuality these days.

9:59am - The professor is now touching on "breath play" or erotic aspyhixation, which she describes as the restriction of breath during sex. She says experts consider this as something that "needs to be considered carefully".

Prof Smith says it heightens sensations, makes the heart race, makes the skin tingle and creates a powerless feeling for the person having their breath restricted. The purpose isn't, however, to make someone feel fearful.

Both women and men are known to enjoy this practise, but people remain reluctant to talk about the pleasure associated with it.

Outside of specialist literature, Prof Smith says there isn't a lot of detail available in the mainstream for people to know how to partake in erotic asphixation safely.

9:51am - Prof Smith is discussing BDSM - an umbrella term that can contain forms of rough sex, or acts that people may consider kinky. She says people often believe it requires dominant and submissive participants, but says those roles can change during the encounter.

She describes it as an "exploration of stylised, ritualistic expressions of power in a sexual context."

She says typically the intention is not to have power over another person in order to do anything damaging, but rather to explore what it might feel like to be submissive in a moment or have power in a moment.

The male participant doesn't need to be the dominant player. Prof Smith says women have just as much interest in BDSM as men.

Within BDSM - particularly in long-term relationships - Prof Smith says there are often parameters put in place by the couple about what practises they will participate in.

People from a range of demographics participate in BDSM, Prof Smith says. But, she says, young people are often more likely to try new things out. She references 50 Shades of Grey as creating a discussion point in the mainstream.

9:37am - The professor says it's not just access to porn that has become easier in the internet era, but access to many other ways sexual intimacy is represented. This includes online discussions about forms of intimacy, relationship advice, and sexual health. Social media networks are also bringing people together. People are also now more open about their sexuality, Prof Smith says. She gives the television show Love Island as an example of how it is observed in mainstream media.

9:27am - One of the things Prof Smith tells the jury is that attitudes towards sexuality are always in "constant change". She says it is a myth that sex is only for reproductive purposes. It's now commonly a "source of pleasure" for both people partaking.

9:13am - Court has begun for the day, with Professor Clarissa Smith the first witness called by the defence. She is streaming into the court via audio-visual link from England. Prof Smith works at the University of Sunderland as a professor of sexual cultures. She specialises in areas of explicit media, sexuality, and sexual ethics. The professor has more than 25 years' experience and studies everything from women's studies to pornographic culture.

8:57am - Likely due to the earlier start time, the public gallery isn't as full as in previous days.

8:30am - Court is beginning early on Wednesday to accommodate a witness streaming into the court via audio-visual link from overseas.

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