Grace Millane's 27th birthday celebrated five years after murder

Grace Millane, 22, was killed by a Tinder date who claimed he'd consensually choked her. Photo:...
Grace Millane, 22, was killed by a Tinder date who claimed he'd consensually choked her. Photo: supplied
Grace Millane would have turned 27 today - had she not been murdered while visiting Auckland on her OE.

To mark the milestone and to raise funds for anti-violence charity Shine, her friend embarked on a 27km run on Auckland’s North Shore.

For the last 6km Hannah Burrell was joined by Detective Inspector Scott Beard who led the investigation into Millane’s murder.

"She was just so friendly, so welcoming, kind, bubbly, funny - a lovely girl," Burrell told NewsHub.

Beard said he had spoken to Millane’s family - who he keeps in contact with - yesterday.

"Just to acknowledge today’s the day," he explained.

"It’s just a sad, sad day for them."

In December 2019 Grace was murdered by Jesse Kempson, a man she had met on a dating app soon after she arrived in Auckland as part of her solo trip around the world.

Kempson took Grace’s life the weekend she would have turned 22.

After killing Millane, Kempson went about trying to cover up his crime and dumped her body in the Waitākere Ranges.

When Kempson finally went on trial he claimed that while he had killed Millane, it was not murder.

Jesse Kempson. Photo: Sam Hurley
Jesse Kempson. Photo: Sam Hurley
Rather, it was rough sex gone terribly wrong - an accident.

The Crown maintained Kempson’s actions were deliberate, cold and callous.

A jury found him guilty and he was jailed for life with a minimum term of 17 years before he is eligible for parole.

It later emerged that Kempson had sexually assaulted two other women and had been charged as a result.

In relation to those women, he was convicted in two separate trials of serious sexual offending.

Kempson’s name was suppressed for all three trials and he could only be named in December 2020 after he had exhausted all of his appeal options.

Today Burrell, who met Millane at university in the UK but is currently living in New Zealand on a work secondment, ran 27km in her mate’s honour.

The run was partly to mark the birthday Millane should have been alive to celebrate but also to raise money for Shine.

Beard joined Burrell for the last 6km of the run.

"I want to show victims of domestic violence that they are not alone," said Burrell before the event.

"Please help me make a positive difference to victims of domestic violence. Let’s help them get safe, stay safe and work towards a violence-free life

Grace Millane's parents David Millane and Gillian Millane arrive at Auckland High Court,...
Grace Millane's parents David Millane and Gillian Millane arrive at Auckland High Court, accompanied by Detective Inspector Scott Beard, November 6, 2019. Photo: Michael Craig/The New Zealand Herald
"I want to help victims of domestic violence get safe, stay safe and heal. Please join me to become part of the solution."

In October Millane’s mother, Gillian, spoke for the first time - outside the court process - about her daughter.

Speaking to The Extraordinary Ordinary podcast, Gillian said Millane was an amazing young girl and her best friend.

"From a very early age, she wanted to travel and New Zealand was one of the places she wrote about," she said.

In a double blow for the family, Grace’s father David Millane was diagnosed with cancer after spending almost three weeks in Auckland in December 2019 while attending the trial for his daughter’s killer.

He died in November 2020.

"He was taken unwell while we were at the trial but we just put it down to stress and we thought he had an ulcer," Gillian said.

"I was in such a dark, lonely place and I pushed everybody away... Trying to find your path on this road of grief is a very difficult thing to do.

"You get to a point when you realise that you’re the only one that can get you out of there.

"I can say that my toes are always in the darkness and sometimes my feet and waist but my head is probably more in the sun now."

By Anna Leask