Grace Millane was murdered in Auckland in December 2018.
Grace Millane was murdered in Auckland in December 2018.

SocietyNovember 4, 2019

Explainer: The Grace Millane murder trial

Grace Millane was murdered in Auckland in December 2018.
Grace Millane was murdered in Auckland in December 2018.

The trial of the man accused of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane began today in the Auckland High Court today.

What’s the latest?

A jury was sworn in today at the Auckland High Court as the trial of the 27-year-old man accused of the murder of Grace Millane, the British backpacker who died while visiting New Zealand late last year.

What do we know about what happened?

Grace Millane was an English backpacker staying in Auckland on the second leg of her OE late last year. When she didn’t respond to family messages wishing her a happy 22nd birthday on December 2, her parents filed a missing person’s report with NZ Police. The case was classified as a homicide and on December 8 a 27-year-old man was charged with her murder. According to reports the man had connected with Millane on a dating app. One day after the charges were laid, Millane’s body was found in West Auckland’s Waitākere Ranges.

What’s happening with the trial?

The trial began this morning before Justice Simon Moore. Twelve jury members, seven women and five men, were selected for the trial, which is set down for five weeks. As is standard in high-profile cases, the jury was instructed to dismiss from their minds any preconceived notions about the case that media coverage might have caused. Following jury selection, Court was adjourned until Wednesday morning when it will begin to hear from nearly 40 Crown witnesses. The accused has submitted a not guilty plea, which he confirmed in court today, and will be defended by Auckland lawyers Ian Brookie, Ron Mansfield and Claire Farquhar.

Who is the accused?

The man’s name is subject to a suppression order, meaning media can publish no identifying information about the accused beyond that he is a 27-year-old male. The reasons for the suppression order have also been withheld. Since the accused was first arrested, some international media have faced criticism for identifying the man.

Google also came under fire when, as reported by The Spinoff, its “New Zealand trending topics” email included the accused’s name. Following an outcry from both the public and politicians, Google announced it was suspending the email. A contingent of international media is in Auckland to cover the trial.

What sort of attention did the case attract?

In the words of Justice Simon Moore, addressing potential jurors today, “Her disappearance, followed by confirmation of her death, excited intense media attention and public comment both here and overseas. Vigils in her memory were held across the country and there were marches and other public events … All sorts of comments expressing sympathy towards her family were published. Politicians and significant others waded into the debate.”

He added: “No one in this country, unless they were out of all communication with the modern world, could not have been aware of these events. The story took the nation by storm and that interest continues today, which is plainly evident from the banks of media present here.”

What happens now?

The Crown, represented by Robin McCoubrey, Brian Dickey and Litia Tuiburelevu of Meredith Connell, begins making its case on Wednesday.

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