Woman at centre of Michael McGrath murder case says she lived in fear of ex-partner

The ex-partner of convicted murderer David Benbow has described how she feared for her life after learning of her new lover Michael McGrath's disappearance.

McGrath vanished without a trace in Christchurch almost seven years ago, with his childhood friend charged and convicted of his murder.

Benbow, 55, was found guilty of McGrath's murder after two trials at the Christchurch High Court in 2023.

He was sentenced to life with a minimum period of 17 years behind bars for his crime on Tuesday.

With no body or murder weapon ever found, prosecutors relied on several threads of circumstantial evidence for their case.

The Crown alleged the former Corrections officer shot McGrath and then disposed of the body along the Banks Peninsula.

The Crown's key argument was that Benbow's ex-partner and mother of their two children, Joanna Green, had started a romantic relationship with McGrath. Crown prosecutor Barnaby Hawes suggested Benbow acted out of jealousy and anger towards the new relationship when he killed him.

Green delivered her victim impact statement, alongside McGrath's family, to a full public gallery on Tuesday.

She told the court how she lived in fear of Benbow after learning of McGrath's disappearance.

"From then on I feared you. For my life, and our daughters' lives and my family's lives," she told Benbow.

She said she would only walk around her home in the dark and installed a camera, personal alarm and a locked gate out of anxiety.

"Only when you are under lock and key, in a prison facility, do I feel some kind of safe [sic]." 

David Benbow at sentencing.
David Benbow at sentencing. Photo credit: Newshub.

Benbow sat in the dock with his back to Green. He never turned to look at her, instead stared towards the judge with a blank face.

Green left Benbow just two months before McGrath disappeared. 

On the day she walked out on Benbow, taking their children with her, she said she lodged a "toxic relationship" with the police. She claimed Benbow had controlled their finances, and was obsessed with money, however, he was never physically violent towards her.

Green soon started seeing McGrath, who she said had a "huge positive effect" on her life in the 17 years she was friends with him.

"I had always respected Mike. Finding out he had felt the same, going from friends to our next-level relationship was magic," she told the court.

Green hadn't planned to tell Benbow she was seeing McGrath yet but one of her children saw them kissing and told their father.

The relationship is what the Crown alleges drove Benbow to murder his longtime friend.

On May 22, 2017, McGrath was invited to Benbow's house to help him move some railway sleepers. Once he arrived, the Crown alleges Benbow shot him with his .22 rifle which has also gone missing, never to be found.

Green told the court how their children's lives were affected by Benbow's actions. She said one of her daughters still blames herself for telling Benbow about the kiss, while the other "shuts down" and had time off school.

"You took a role model, teacher, positive and affectionate figure from them. They have grown up without a father," Green said.

Michael McGrath.
Michael McGrath. Photo credit: NZ Police

Detective Inspector Kylie Schaare told media after the sentencing that she hasn't given up hope that McGrath's body will be found.

"But I think we've got to be realistic, and we heard today that the person sentenced still doesn't accept responsibility or remorse, so I think that's unrealistic that we will get an answer from that avenue at this time," Det Insp Schaare said.

She said McGrath's family don't have somewhere to visit him, as there has been no funeral or memorial due to his body never being found.

"They want to lay him to rest with dignity but that has been denied to them," Det Insp Schaare said.

It leaves McGrath's loved ones with unanswered questions.

"Every morning I wake up, every day, every night, constantly thinking, going over where Mike is? Is he at peace? Did he put up a fight? Did he suffer? What was his last thought?" Green said.

Green told the court now she will allow herself to grieve McGrath's death.

"Separately we weren't perfect, but we were perfect together," she said.

She said she would move forward with power knowing she always told the truth and with counseling and time, their children will get to a place of understanding and make sense of their father's crime.

"You have caused so much sadness and disbelief for so many people," Green said.

"I despise you, but you will always be [our daughters'] father."