Warning: This article contains details of sexual violence some readers may find distressing.
The man who murdered British backpacker Grace Millane in New Zealand in 2018 has been sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 17 years. The 28-year-old killer still remains unnamed in the media, and most likely will do until 2021 due to a temporary suppression order that withholds his public identification until routes of appeal have been exhausted.
The sentencing took place today (the morning of February 21 New Zealand time, evening of February 20 UK time) in Auckland High Court. Grace's family were not present for the hearing, which came three months after a jury made up of seven men and five women delivered a guilty verdict on the count of murder, but did read their victim impact statements via video link from England.
Brother Declan and sister in-law Victoria were the first of Grace's family to address the court. "This person did not just take Grace's life, he took away a piece of my life as well," Declan said in tears. "I have not felt whole since my sister's death."
They were followed by Grace's mum Gillian, who said the killer had "taken my daughter's future" and robbed her family of so many memories.
During the delivery of the sentence, Justice Simon Moore said: "You are a large and powerful man, she was diminutive. You were in a position of total physical dominance."
Essex-born Grace Millane was strangled to death on the eve of her 22nd birthday by her Tinder date. On the night of December 1, 2018, while in New Zealand on a round-the-world trip following her graduation, Grace met her 28-year-old killer for a drink at Auckland's SkyCity. Despite her killer initially telling police the pair parted ways at the bar, CCTV footage showed during the trial that Grace went back to the man's apartment.
There, Grace was strangled to death during sex. The court heard how the murderer stored the 21-year-old's body in a suitcase while he went out on another date, and later buried in bushland on the outskirts of Auckland.
During the trial, the court had heard from a woman who gave evidence to say she feared she would die during a previous sexual encounter with the defendant. He forcibly pinned her down, choking her, and it was only when she pretended to pass out that the man released her, the witness said.
While this sentencing signals justice for Grace in this horrifically awful case, the young woman's family have spoken about how it still doesn't feel like closure for them. Speaking to the BBC, Grace's cousin Hannah O'Callaghan, said: "The sentence will not change the fact that Grace is gone."
When asked whether the family felt as if this week was a big week, or marked a chapter ending, she said: "No. Every week is going to be a big week. It's not closure."
Our thoughts are with Grace's loved ones at this very difficult time.
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