Grace Millane's friends, family, run 27km to honour her 27th birthday

Grace Millane should have been celebrating her 27th birthday on Saturday, doing whatever she wanted to mark the occasion.

Instead, her friends and family are celebrating it with a running event in her memory.

At the same time, they're also marking the five-year anniversary of her murder.

In 2018, Grace, who was from England, started her OE by travelling to Peru.

That November she arrived in New Zealand to continue her backpacking adventure.

The following month, on the eve of her 22nd birthday, she went on a date in central Auckland.

After not being able to contact his daughter on her 22nd birthday, Grace's father David Millane flew to Auckland and made a plea for information.

David described his daughter as family-orientated and said she was usually in daily contact with them.

Police said they had grave concerns for the young woman's safety.

A week after she was last seen in a central Auckland hotel, her body was found in bush in the Waitākere Ranges.

A man who was seen on CCTV footage entering a hotel with Grace was found guilty of her murder in 2019.

He was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

The case caused national anger and the then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a personal apology to Grace's family for what happened to her.

Grace was described by her family as a gregarious woman who had long dreamed of travelling the world.

Before heading overseas on her OE, she studied advertising and marketing at the University of Lincoln in England.

There she played hockey with Hannah Burrell.

The 26-year-old remembers Grace as a kind, friendly and bubbly young woman.

"She was just so friendly, so welcoming. She was in her third year when I started uni," Hannah told Newshub.

She was one of the first people I remember at that first big social being super-friendly, welcoming coming up to everyone introducing herself," she added.

Several months ago, Hannah arrived in New Zealand from England to take up a work placement with an engineering firm.

She knew she would be in Aotearoa for what would have been Grace's 27th birthday as well as the anniversary of her death - and wanted to do something in honour of her life.

With the blessing of Grace's mother Gillian, Hannah decided on the running event: '27 km For Her 27th Birthday'.

The group ran or biked through Auckland's North Shore.

"I just want people to hear her name and just think of the friendly, kind, funny woman that she was and not all of the awful things that we've heard that happened to her," Hannah said.

Grace Millane, pictured centre-right in her graduation gown.
Grace Millane, pictured centre-right in her graduation gown. Photo credit: Newshub.

Detective Inspector Scott Beard headed the investigation, and he also took part in today's event by biking and running.

He's stayed in contact with the Millane family in the years since Grace's death.

"In fact I was just speaking to Gillian Millane yesterday just to acknowledge that today's the day. It's just a sad, sad day for them," he said.

For Det Insp Beard, who has been with the police for 43 years, the case was particularly tough.

Having children of his own and a daughter of a similar age he felt a true empathy for Grace's parents.

"She had a degree, she was on her OE, she would have gone back home - got work, employment, probably met someone. You know and the family will never have that," Beard told Newshub.

Anti-violence campaigner and Newshub editor Mark Longley was invited to speak at today's event.

His own daughter Emily was murdered by her partner 11 years ago in the UK.

"I woke up one morning to a missed call from my mother," he said to the attendees.

He'd thought his daughter had simply gotten into trouble.

"She'd just been in New Zealand. I thought it can't be Emily," he said.

"They've got it wrong."

He jumped on the next flight to England and went to the morgue.

"Sure enough it was her, and the police said 'when you're ready you can go into the room'.

"And I walked into the room and Emily looked like she was asleep. It looked like a thousand times when I'd go into her room to wake her up for school. I just thought I'd go and give her a shake and she'll wake up."

He said the narrative around violence against women needs to change.

"We hear things like women being warned if they go out jogging - don't go out after dark, don't wear headphones, don't listen to music, go with other people.

"But we never hear anyone saying actually stop attacking women - which is a much simpler solution," Longley said.

Beard told Newshub violence against women happens in New Zealand every day.

"It's a vicious circle and somehow we've got to try and stop that," he said.

Hannah said as well as taking part in the run today, supporters could also donate to Shine - an organisation working to stop domestic violence in New Zealand through the link here.