Killer of backpacker Grace Millane launches appeal against conviction

Charles Anderson
·2-min read
The 22-year-old from Essex was murdered by a man she met on Tinder while travelling in New Zealand in 2018 - Lucie Blackman Trust/PA
The 22-year-old from Essex was murdered by a man she met on Tinder while travelling in New Zealand in 2018 - Lucie Blackman Trust/PA

The man who was found guilty of murdering 22-year-old British backpacker Grace Millane in New Zealand in 2018 has appealed his conviction and sentence to life imprisonment.

A jury at his trial in November found that Millane was strangled to death on her birthday by the man she met on Tinder, whose identity has been kept secret by court order. 

Prosecutors said she was strangled for a prolonged period, while he argued that her death was not murder but the result of rough sex gone wrong.

After the Essex woman’s death, in an Auckland hotel room, prosecutors said the killer took intimate photos of her body, searched for pornography online, then went on another Tinder date, before burying Millane in West Auckland’s Waitākere Ranges.

At the Court of Appeal on Thursday, the man’s lawyer, Rachael Reed QC, said the appeal did not seek to "condone or excuse" her client's actions following Millane's death. But she argued that too much emphasis had been placed on those actions in determining his sentence, which mandated a minimum of 17 years in prison before he could be eligible for parole.

Ms Reed also said the conviction was flawed, arguing that the jury had not received proper directions on considering the issue of consent and that they did not have sufficient experience to assess expert evidence.

She claimed that jurors did not have guidance enabling them to fully weigh up the killer’s “honest belief in consent”.

Reiterating the defence claim that Millane had consented to have pressure applied to her neck, she argued: “Consent shouldn’t be removed just because someone has died."

But prosecutor Brian Dickey maintained the appeal was “flimsy” and that the question of consent had been fully examined in the trial. He said that 90 seconds was a long time to apply pressure to someone’s neck.

“She must have been resisting ... and struggling for her life,” Mr Dickey said. “You don't just tap someone's neck and they die.”

The trial of Millane's killer re-energised debate in New Zealand and Britain over the use of the so-called "rough sex defence". In July, Parliament voted to outlaw "consent for sexual gratification" as a defence for causing serious harm to a person, following an outcry in the UK over a series of acquittals on such grounds. 

However the jury in the New Zealand trial took just five hours to unanimously convict Millane's killer of murder.

The 28-year-old man was present for the appeal via an audio-visual link from prison.

The Court of Appeal judges, Justice Stephen Kos, Justice Patricia Courtney and Justice Mark Cooper reserved their decision.