Grace Millane murder trial: The accused's 'life through Tinder'

Grace Millane met the accused on a Tinder date the night she died.
Grace Millane met the accused on a Tinder date the night she died.
Warning: The Grace Millane murder trial is hearing evidence of a graphic and sexual nature. Reader discretion is advised. The trial is taking place in open court and media are required to accurately report the evidence as it is presented.

A British expert in sexual culture has told the Grace Millane murder trial that attitudes towards sex have changed drastically in the past three decades.

Professor Clarissa Smith, from the University of Sunderland, is testifying for the defence in the High Court at Auckland this morning.

The case of the man accused of murdering the British backpacker on the night of December 1 last year in Auckland is now into its third week.

The Herald brings you the latest updates from the courtroom today:

Millane 'naive and trusting' in online sex community
2.20pm

In a statement of agreed facts, the court was told of some material which had been extracted from Millane's laptop by a computer forensic expert.

Three chats were recovered from the BDSM online app Whiplr, which Millane was a member of.

The messages from the chats, which totalled 412 in August and September 2017, were between Millane and two unidentified men.

Some of the messages appeared to propose a casual sexual encounter, the court heard.

There is no evidence Millane met with the second man. However there is evidence she met with the first male on September 2.

Millane, who said she was new to the practice at the time, also talked of role play and discussed her desire to be fully restrained and blindfolded.

The messages were some of 72,000 individual messages found on Millane's computer, the court heard.

Millane 'naive and trusting' in online sex community
12.50pm

A user of the app Whiplr, an online BDSM community, had his police statement read to the court.

He said he connected with Millane on the app and the pair exchanged messages and photos.

In one messaging platform, he said Millane used her full name and outlined her interest in BDSM and other forms of kinky sex.

"Most people use the apps in a discreet manner," he said.

Millane, he said, appeared to be "at an explorative stage and quite open to suggestions" but was "quite open to it and wanted to try it".

"I felt like Grace was more naive and trusting in the BDSM area. The users could be any undesirable person online, and Grace had a naivety."

The court heard Millane had last accessed Whiplr at 3.43am on December 1.

The man, who lives in London, first saw Millane was reported missing in a BBC broadcast.

Richard Middleton, a private investigator hired by the accused's legal team, has also given evidence.

He said FetLife, which Millane was a member on, was "quite explicit".

Middleton, a retired detective inspector, told the court he went to the UK – in an attempt to ask Millane's friends to testify for the defence.

But he said witnesses outside New Zealand cannot be summonsed to court and, instead, those who knew Millane have had their statements read to the court.

Man 'potentially' grabbed Grace's throat during night before she met accused
11.40am

A man who spent the night of November 30 last year with Millane has given evidence to the court for the defence.

The following day - December 1 - Millane met the accused.

The man, who has name suppression, said he had met Millane at the Base Backpackers where she was staying in Auckland.

He recalled being attracted to the "outgoing" Millane who talked of future travels to Fiji.

The pair, he told the court, began messaging each other on Facebook about meeting up socially, before returning to the man's apartment in downtown Auckland on the evening of November 30.

The man said the two went back to his place to watch a film.

"We started kissing during the film," he said, which led to the couple having sex.

During this, he said he placed a hand "potentially on her neck" but "can't remember 100 per cent".

The man said this was "common".

"I usually do it," he said.

"Because girls usually enjoy it."

During cross-examination, Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey asked if sex between the pair was rough.

"If I called it vanilla would you agree?" Dickey said.

"Yes," the man replied.

When re-examined by defence lawyer Ron Mansfield he asked the man if he knew by December 10 what had happened to Millane.

"I knew she had died, yes," the man said, who had volunteered to speak to police about his night with the backpacker.

Grace Millane died on the weekend of her 22nd birthday. Photo: Supplied
Grace Millane died on the weekend of her 22nd birthday. Photo: Supplied
Sex 'an incredibly important part of everyday life' for younger generations
10.25am

Under cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey, Smith said some people will practice erotic asphyxiation "to the point of unconsciousness".

She said some high-profile cases of celebrities engaging in erotic asphyxiation have increased its popularity.

However, while safety should be of primary concern during erotic asphyxiation, "in the heat of the moment that might not happen".

"Sometimes the desire for something might override [safety concerns]," Smith said.

She added that when alcohol or drugs were involved "safety may not be someone's first priority".

10.10am

Smith was then asked about BDSM, which the court has heard Millane showed a preference for.

BDSM, the professor said, was an umbrella term which includes bondage, domination and sadomasochism.

"It can include whatever is kinky," she said, adding that sexual interests such as fetishes, cross dressing and voyeurism can come under the BDSM title.

But, Smith continued, the "point is not to be humiliated" or dominated.

"It's about playing with the idea and feelings of humiliation," she said.

"But you want the feeling of being under control."

She likened the feeling to that of being on a rollercoaster.

"Young people are, of course, more likely to be interested in experimenting and trying something new."

Such a "dabble in elements of kink", she said, would include sex toys, Fifty Shades of Grey, and furry handcuffs.

Erotic asphyxiation, which the court has heard Millane practised, heightened the sensations of the person being asphyxiated during sex, Smith said.

FetLife, an online BDSM community which Millane was a member of, has about eight million users worldwide, she added.

9.40am

Smith, whose studies have included taboo media, sexually explicit media, sexuality and sexual ethics said attitudes towards sex have drastically changed in the past three decades.

"It's not just reserved for maybe one's life partner or maybe marriage," she said.

"There are also expectations that one's sex and sexuality may change over one's lifespan as well."

Through her research, she told the court, she learned how much women were interested in themes of domination in erotic stories.

With the rise of the internet, Smith said more open discussions were being had about sexual development, sexual help, education, advice about relationships.

There were also several social media networks which helped people form bonds of intimacy, the author of "One for the girls! The Pleasures and Practices of Reading Women's Porn" she said.

Mansfield, one of the accused's lawyers, also asked about reality television's role in modern sexual themes.

During the professor's answer, however, Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey interrupted and said: "We're 25 minutes into the professor's evidence and we're talking about her opinion of Love Island."

Mansfield continued onto a new question and said: "Professor we do, sadly, have access to Love Island in New Zealand."

Smith said people now talked about sex as entertainment and it is "an incredibly important part of youth cultures".

"Sex has became an incredibly important part of everyday life," she said of younger people.

'Absolutely no motive for murder'

Yesterday defence lawyer Ron Mansfield told the jury: "We are here to investigate how Grace Millane died."

He is one of a three-pronged legal team defending a 27-year-old man charged with murder.

No one would believe the accused's story of a fatal sexual misadventure after matching on the online dating app Tinder, Mansfield said.

"But don't prove him right," he urged the High Court jury.

The defence case began with the alleged killer's chief defence lawyer, Ian Brookie, informing Justice Simon Moore that his client will not give evidence himself but elects to call evidence.

The testimony included an expert forensic pathologist, some of Millane's friends and evidence of her online sexual behaviour.

During the defence's opening address yesterday, Mansfield said the accused and Millane were an "otherwise happy couple, having fun, and consensual sex" on the night of December 1.

CCTV footage of the pair shows them drinking, laughing and kissing throughout the evening.

Crown prosecutors allege that on the eve of Millane's 22nd birthday the accused strangled her to death in his CityLife hotel apartment in downtown Auckland.

Mansfield, however, said the Crown had shown no evidence of "some assault, for which we have absolutely no motive for".

"None of the people who were occupying the room right next door heard any disturbance," he added.

What the accused did after Millane died, which included disposing of her body, cleaning the apartment, dumping evidence and lying to police, was the result of fear, Mansfield said.

"People do things when they're stressed, when they're panicked.

"No matter what he did once he realised she had died, unless he called the authorities, that was not going to look good or stand him in good stead ... Because who was going to believe him that death occurred during a consensual sexual activity?"

But as reprehensible as the accused's conduct in the days after may seem, Mansfield said it would tell the jury little about how Millane died.

"In this trial, like it or not, we have no choice but to confront what happened in [the accused's] bedroom at the CityLife that night. Because that is where we know Ms Millane died. And we are here to investigate how Ms Millane died."

He said this included evidence about Millane's sexual preferences, just as the accused's and "his life through Tinder" had been canvassed by the Crown.

"I want to be very clear that no one is trying to shame Ms Millane or her family and no one is trying to blame Ms Millane and her family," Mansfield said.

Millane, he continued, was a "loving, bright, engaging, intelligent and well-liked woman".

"That is her reputation and that should be her reputation and memory at the start of this trial and at the conclusion of it."

A former sexual partner of Millane's had his statement read to the court, in which he talked of their relationship and how she enjoyed choking during sex.

The pair, he said, also practised BDSM, blindfolding and role play.

But, the statement continued, the two trusted each other and used a safe word.

"Grace and I were careful to discuss not only the physical but psychological effects of BDSM."

A friend of Millane also had her statement read to the court.

The confidant said part of "girl talk" included the two discussing their sexual preferences.

Millane "enjoyed her partner putting his hands around her neck", BDSM and rough sex, she said.

The court also heard evidence that Millane held accounts on Whiplr and FetLife, online BDSM and sexual fetish communities.

She last accessed her Whiplr account on December 1 last year - the day she met the accused - from her backpackers in Auckland.

Mansfield earlier told the jury not to make assumptions about the evidence based on their own beliefs.

"In this trial, if we're not careful, our own religious, political, social or moral views can distract you."

Later in the afternoon the court listened to pathologist Dr Fintan Garavan via video link in Miami in the United States.

Garavan said the "major participant" in Millane's death was pressure on her neck - corresponding with the finding of the Crown's expert pathologist Dr Simon Stables.

He, however, disagreed with Stables' position that alcohol would not have been a factor.

Millane's alcohol consumption may have led to a biological "safety valve" not kicking in, Garavan said.

The expert in the effect of drugs and alcohol on the body added it could "very well have been a secondary factor in the cause of death".

CCTV shows the backpacker had several drinks on the night she died, including shots of tequila and cocktails.

The doctor said the narrative of rough sex from the accused was also "an adequate" explanation as to how Millane may have died, given the bruising found around her neck.

Today the court is expected to hear evidence from a private investigator hired by the accused's legal team.

 

 

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