Grace Millane: Scott Beard on moment he knew what Jesse Kempson had done, former flatmate on killer's 'elaborate' stories

The detective in charge of the Grace Millane case has recounted the moment luminol spray revealed the young backpacker's blood throughout her murderer's apartment, acknowledging it as when he knew what Jesse Kempson had done.

British broadcaster ITV on Tuesday morning (NZT) aired a documentary about Millane's murder in December 2018, featuring Detective Inspector Scott Beard, as well as others linked to Kempson, such as his former flatmate Millie Mason.

The pair appeared on ITV's This Morning show on Monday night (NZT), with Det Insp Beard asked about the initial stages of the investigation, which at that stage centred on the British backpacker as a missing person.

"There were these red flags. You hope for all hope that you're going to find her. A red flag will indicate that it could be a lot more serious. So you take it seriously from the start," he said.

"I had to ensure staff… were focused on working out who Grace was. We had to know who our victim was."

Investigators quickly began looking into where Millane was staying, who her friends were and what her social media activity was. 

The 21-year-old had been in New Zealand for nearly two weeks, having travelled here as part of an overseas experience. She had spent time up north, with a visit to Cape Reinga and the Bay of Islands and was staying at The Base backpackers in central Auckland. 

Millane met Kempson on Tinder and the pair went on a date at several central bars and restaurants on the night of December 1, the day before her 22nd birthday. After her UK-based parents began getting concerned she wasn't replying to birthday messages, police became involved. 

Det Insp Beard said investigators noticed a person by the name of Jesse Shane had commented on a Facebook picture of Millane's. Shane is Kempson's middle name.

"We didn't know who that person was at the time. Message was sent, next day, next morning, he contacts us, arranges an interview, comes to the police station to be interviewed on the Thursday afternoon [December 6]. 

"By that stage, we'd obviously done a lot more background work into who Grace was, her family, and where she'd been staying at the backpackers and of course, the CCTV."

The CCTV would become an important piece of evidence during Kempson's trial. He told police during their December 6 interview that after a few drinks he had parted ways with the young woman. The video footage, however, showed them out late into the evening before heading back to a room at the CityLife hotel. 

Det Insp Beard was asked at what point did he and his team realise what Kempson had done.

"[I] think it's not until we had the search warrant and we'd gone to his apartment and the forensic scientists overnight had sprayed luminol which is an agent which reacts with blood and in the dark will make the blood glow," he replied.

"And then when you see his room and you see the blood in his room, and you just go, 'Oh my gosh'. We knew by that stage that he was lying, because we'd caught him out lying in his first interview on Thursday night. But we didn't have sufficient evidence to charge that stage."

Luminol reaction in the apartment.
Luminol reaction in the apartment. Photo credit: Supplied.
Luminol reaction in the apartment.
Luminol reaction in the apartment. Photo credit: Supplied.

On December 8, Kempson would admit lying in his first interview and said the pair did go back to the apartment. He would claim that Millane died during a form of rough sex and that he buried her body in the Waitakere ranges, where she was found dead in a suitcase on December 9. 

Det Insp Beard told ITV that at no point did Kempson admit to murder, even during his 2019 trial. The Crown argued throughout the three-week trial Auckland High Court that the man murdered Millane by strangling her, while the defence said her death was an accident during sex. The jury sided with the Crown and Kempson was later imprisoned for life with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years

The detective said the defence's rough sex case put the blame "back on the victim". 

"She can't answer. Grace is dead. He chose not to give evidence and that is his right. But yeah, it was pretty tough because she can't answer. 

"We knew he's a liar. He just, everything he's telling us, even in his second interview on the Saturday afternoon, there's a number of lies in there."

He said it was "really sad" to sit beside Millane's parents during the trial. 

"To feel [Grace's mother] Gillian at times sobbing, crying beside you, hearing what the defence is proposing and what evidence they are calling, the questions they are asking witnesses, yeah it is sad. It revictimises that family."

Meanwhile, Mason told ITV about her experience. She was living with a group of girls and needed a fourth flatmate. Kempson applied for the room and spoke to one of the flatmates, providing what she called an "elaborate" story about his life. 

"He was coming over to New Zealand, he had lived in Australia, to buy bars to add to the franchise his father owned. That was his story," she told This Morning.

Elaborate lies Kempson told about his life were a common theme through the 2019 trial and something others who knew him have told Newshub of. 

One other former flatmate said the man would say he was an All Blacks' cousin and was looking to purchase shares in a restaurant in Auckland's Viaduct with his uncle. A text Millane sent one of her friends during the backpacker's date with Kempson said he had told her he was an oil company manager. 

Mason said, on one hand, the man was saying he was a big-shot, but on the other, he couldn't keep up with rent payments. 

"[He] owed us money. There was always an excuse. He was waiting on money from his accountant in Australia, you know… it stopped making sense."

Eventually, everyone stopped believing his stories, she said.

"There are so many stories that you start to say, 'really?' Like it just stops making sense."

One of the flatmates slept with a knife one night.

"Yeah, he came home drunk and broke some furniture and she was scared. He was just one of those people that, you know, when they drink, the facade just goes a little bit. You immediately think, 'what are you hiding?'

When she heard Kempson was involved with Millane's death, Mason said she was initially shocked, but then "not so shocked". 

"You're shocked it happened. But there is that little voice in your heard, that's saying, 'you know, your instinct wasn't wrong. There was something wrong here'."

Mason said Kempson's rough sex defence was "disgusting". 

"She can't speak up for herself and he can say whatever he wants, you know, I don't think it matters what she was or wasn't into. Like, how dare he, you know, take her life and then to blame it on that. He didn't ask for that. She can't consent to that."

Kempson had his name suppressed until December last year after it was lifted following a ruling by the Supreme Court. An attempt to appeal both his conviction and sentence failed at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court rejected his application to have his case heard there.

It was also revealed last December that since his murder conviction Kempson was also found guilty of a number of other violent offences relating to two other women.