The family of slain British backpacker Grace Millane are set to face her alleged killer in court in New Zealand this week as his murder trial begins.
Property developer David Millane, 61, and his wife Gillian, from Wickford in Essex, have made the 12,000 mile journey to Auckland, where their daughter died during a Tinder date the night before her 22nd birthday last December.
On Monday, the 27-year-old defendant, a New Zealander who cannot be named for legal reasons, pleaded not guilty to murdering Lincoln University graduate Miss Millane in the room of a city centre hotel where he was living full time.
He appeared in the dock at Auckland’s High Court to watch as a jury of five men and seven women was sworn in to hear the trial which is set down for five weeks.
British backpacker, Grace Millane, from Essex, was on the second leg of a year-long world tour after graduating from the University of Lincoln
The scene where the body of British tourist Grace Millane was found by New Zealand police in the Waitakere Ranges
Dressed in a dark suit and black shirt and with his hair close cropped, the suspect listened impassively as Judge Simon Moore told more than 200 prospective jurors: ‘This story took the nation by storm, and that interest continues today.’
Judge Moore said Ms Millane’s death had prompted vigils and marches across the country and insisted that any potential jurors must tell him if they had taken part.
‘No juror is allowed to be swayed by feelings of sympathy or prejudice,’ he said. ‘If you can’t give a promise that you will approach the trial with impartiality and evenhandedness then you can’t be a juror.’
Mr and Mrs Millane spent part of the weekend being briefed by police and lawyers on the evidence they will hear in court.
They are expected to appear in the public gallery on Wednesday when Crown solicitor Brian Dickey will open the prosecution case at which details of Grace’s death will be heard in public for the first time.
The defendant’s barrister, Ian Brookie, will also outline the defence case.
Until now, the results of a post-mortem examination have been suppressed by the court.
The family of murdered British backpacker Grace Millane (far right). From left to right: Father David Millan, brother Michael Millane, mother Gillian Millane, brother Declan Millane and Grace
Miss Millane’s body was found buried in dense woodland west of the city a week after she and the man were captured on CCTV entering the CityLife hotel on Auckland’s main street hours after meeting for the first time at a bar nearby.
After taking a degree in advertising and marketing she had begun a solo gap year adventure weeks earlier, visiting Machu Picchu in Peru before arriving in New Zealand in mid November.
She checked into a backpackers’ hostel the day before her fateful Tinder date.
Her disappearance became one of the country’s highest profile criminal cases, even prompting an apology to the Millane family from prime minister Jacinda Ardern.
Grace Millane’s (pictured) family, who flew out to New Zealand to collect the body, previously paid tribute to the talented artist
‘Your daughter should have been safe here, and she wasn’t, and I’m sorry for that,’ Ms Ardern told them in an emotional speech.
‘From the Kiwis I have spoken to there is this overwhelming sense of hurt and shame that this has happened in our country, a place that prides itself on our hospitality.’
Candlelit vigils were held in towns and cities across the country in the days after her death was confirmed, attracting thousands of people, many of whom openly wept.
David Millane, who runs a family construction business with Miss Millane’s two brothers, Michael and Declan, attended the event in Auckland as he organised flying her body back home.
He listened as renowned local singer Lizzie Marvelly sang Amazing Grace to the crowd gathered just a short distance from the hotel where she is alleged to have been killed.
Back in Britain, Grace’s brother Declan posted a heartfelt tribute to his sister, quoting the words of a famous 1940 song by Jimmie Davis.
‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.’
The close knit family issued a statement denouncing Grace’s killing as ‘heinous’ but thanked the police team who discovered her.
‘We would like to thank the people of New Zealand for their outpouring of love, numerous messages, tributes and compassion,’ they said.
‘Grace was not born here and only managed to stay a few weeks, but you have taken her to your hearts and in some small way she will forever be a Kiwi.’