Essex

Grace Millane murder accused 'struggled to put body in suitcase'

Grace Millane, 22, from Essex, who went missing in New Zealand Image copyright REX/Shutterstock
Image caption University of Lincoln graduate Grace Millane died on the night before her 22nd birthday

A man accused of murdering a British backpacker told police he struggled to put her body in a suitcase, a court has heard.

Grace Millane was travelling in New Zealand when she died on the night before her 22nd birthday.

The defendant claimed he panicked after finding her not breathing and put her body in a suitcase which he buried in a shallow grave in woods near Auckland.

He denies murdering Ms Millane, who was from Wickford in Essex.

Prosecutors have told Auckland High Court the 27-year-old defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, strangled Ms Millane on 1 December 2018 after a Tinder date.

But his defence team claim the death was an accident during consensual sex.

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Media captionThe court has been shown CCTV of the suspect taking a suitcase out of his hotel

In a police interview played to the jury, the defendant said the pair engaged in rough sex which he claimed was initiated by Ms Millane.

The man told police he had a shower and fell asleep before waking up the next day to find Ms Millane with "blood coming from her nose".

"I was very scared and called out to her and tried to move her to see if she was awake," he said.

After discovering she was not breathing, the defendant said he "panicked" and went out to buy a suitcase and cleaning products before trying to hide her body.

"I remember putting Grace in the suitcase, I was just in shock, I couldn't put her in it, it didn't seem right, it didn't seem right," he said.

Image copyright TVNZ
Image caption Grace Millane was found buried in the Waitakere Ranges, near Auckland

The defendant said he left Ms Millane "half in half out of the suitcase" in his Auckland hotel room while he went to buy bleach and then again when he went on a Tinder date.

He said: "Then I put her in the bag and was I was saying 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry' and then I went downstairs and got the porter thing (trolley) and I put the suitcase on top of it with another suitcase and I took it downstairs and put it in the hire car."

The man told officers he went out early on 3 December and buried the suitcase in a shallow grave in woodland outside the city.

He claimed he had attempted to take his own life by taking an overdose after discovering Ms Millane's body and again when he buried her.

"I was in shock, I didn't know what to do," he said.

In his first police interview, the defendant said the pair had drinks and then went home separately after their Tinder date.

Asked in the second interview by his own lawyer why he was changing his story, he said he wanted Ms Millane's family to have closure and to know "it wasn't intentional".

Following the interview he was arrested and took officers to Ms Millane's body.

The trial continues.

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