Man accused of killing UK backpacker appears in New Zealand court

Posted at 12:36 AM, Dec 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-10 02:36:16-05

A 26-year-old man accused with killing a British backpacker made his first appearance in a New Zealand court on Monday, state broadcaster Radio New Zealand reported.

The backpacker, Grace Millane, 22, was last seen at the Auckland city center on the evening of December 1. A body believed to be that of the missing woman was found in a wooded area in the Waitakere Ranges, west of central Auckland, police said on Sunday.

Police previously said that a man seen with her in Auckland the night she disappeared would be charged in her death.

The accused man appeared in the Auckland District Court Monday morning local time. Presiding Judge Evangelos Thomas denied the man’s request to have his name suppressed, but his defense lawyer immediately appealed that decision, meaning he cannot be publicly identified for 20 days, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reported.

The man — who appeared in court wearing a blue jumpsuit — was remanded to custody until he appears in court in January, the broadcaster reported.

Prime Minister apologizes

Thomas addressed members of Millane’s family at the court hearing, RNZ said.

“I don’t know what we say to you at this time. Your grief must be desperate,” it quoted him as saying. “All of us hope that justice for Grace is fair, swift and ultimately brings you some peace.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern apologized to the Millane family at her weekly post Cabinet media conference, RNZ reported.

“From the Kiwis I have spoken to there is this overwhelming sense of shame that this has happened in our country, a place that prides itself on its hospitality, on its manaakitanga, especially to those who are visiting our shores,” Ardern said. “So on behalf of New Zealand, I want to apologize to Grace’s family: Your daughter should have been safe here and she wasn’t and I’m sorry for that.”

Detective Inspector Scott Beard said Sunday afternoon that the body found in the Waitakere Ranges was yet to be identified.

“The formal identification process will now take place, however based on the evidence we have gathered over the past few days, we expect that this is Grace. Obviously this brings the search for Grace to an end,” Beard said in a statement. “It is an unbearable time for the Millane family and our hearts go out to them.”

Beard issued an appeal for sightings of a 2016 red Toyota Corolla hatchback hired from a rental company.

“The focus now is to piece together exactly what happened to a young girl, who came to this country on her (worldwide trip),” he said.

Family privacy

An autopsy of the body has been completed but the results will not be released, Beard said Monday.

He said that the investigation is continuing and that police have received several reports of sightings of the red hatchback.

Beard also discouraged people from sharing the accused man’s name while it is being withheld in court.

“We would like to remind the public that whilst we appreciate the public feeling around this case, it is an offense to breach a court order such as a name suppression, and this includes naming someone who has name suppression on social media,” Beard said.

The Millane family has asked for continued privacy, Beard said.

“We have been approached by a number of people who would like to hold vigils for Grace. The Millane family are very grateful for the kind thoughts and give their blessing to these vigils, but have respectfully declined to attend,” he said.

‘Fun-loving, family-orientated’

Millane’s father, David Millane issued a statement through police Friday appealing for information and describing his daughter as “a lovely, outgoing, fun-loving, family-orientated daughter.”

He said his daughter was on a yearlong worldwide trip.

“Grace started this travel journey in Peru in South America and was really looking forward to the second leg in New Zealand. She arrived here on the 20th of November and has bombarded us with numerous photographs and messages of her adventures,” he said. “We are all extremely upset and it is very difficult at this time to fully describe the range of emotions we are all going through.”

Murder case

Local police who had been searching for Millane for days announced on Saturday that new evidence had changed the course from a missing person investigation to a murder case.

“The evidence we have located so far — our scene examination, CCTV footage and our investigation, has determined that Grace is no longer alive and this is a murder investigation,” Beard said at a news conference Saturday.

Police had earlier said that the last known sighting of Millane was of her entering a hotel at about 9:40 p.m. local time on December 1 and that they were conducting a scene examination of an apartment at the hotel.