Grace Millane disappearance now MURDER probe as police question man, 26

Police searching for missing British backpacker Grace Millane in New Zealand say her disappearance is now a murder investigation.

A 26-year-old man is being questioned by detectives, officers said.

Investigators said they had "grave fears" for the safety of the 22-year-old, who was last seen at an Auckland hotel nearly a week ago.

Police now say evidence suggests the graduate, from Essex, has been killed.

Auckland City Police Detective Inspector Scott Beard said: "Just after 3pm this afternoon (2am GMT) a 26-year-old man was located at a central Auckland address by police, he was brought back here to the Auckland Central Police Station and is currently speaking to us in relation to the murder of Grace Millane.

"Sadly the evidence we have gathered to this point in the inquiry has established that this is a homicide.

"Grace’s family have been advised of this development and they are devastated."

DI Beard added: "Obviously this means we are treating Grace’s disappearance as a homicide investigation. We still do not know where Grace is. We are determined to find her and return her to her family."

In a tearful press conference on Friday, Grace’s dad David, who has travelled to Auckland, said the "fun-loving" graduate’s family were "extremely concerned" for her welfare.

Investigators have been examining a scene at the hotel complex where Grace, who turned 22 on Sunday, was last seen with a "male companion" on December 1.

Searches have also been carried out at the backpackers’ accommodation where she was staying.

On Saturday, police released images of her necklace and watch and urged anyone who recognised the items to come forward.

Speaking at an earlier press conference, Auckland City Police Detective Inspector Scott Beard said: "Detectives have assessed Grace’s belongings that were found at the backpackers where she was staying.

"Several of her belongings, including her passport, are missing and police believe it is likely that Grace has these items with her."

Grace, from Essex, graduated from the University of Lincoln in September and had embarked on a year-long worldwide trip.

After visiting Peru she arrived in New Zealand on November 20 and had been "bombarding" her family with photos as she kept in near-daily contact with her parents and brothers via social media.

Her dad David said they last had contact on the day she vanished.

"As a family we have been extremely concerned for her welfare," he said.

"Grace is a lovely, outgoing, fun-loving, family-orientated daughter. Grace has never been out of contact for this amount of time."

Auckland City Police said it received a missing person’s report on Wednesday.

Investigators established the last known sighting of Grace was as she entered the Citylife Hotel in the city centre at 9.41pm on December 1 with a "male companion".

DI Beard said the "person of interest" had been spoken to by investigators, although he was not being held in custody and detectives "still have no evidence of foul play".

He said: "At this point our inquiries have not led us to any further confirmed sightings of Grace, and the last known sighting is of her entering the Citylife Hotel."

Mr Millane said her family are all "extremely upset" and appealed for the public’s help in finding his daughter.

"I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to anybody who has seen, spoken to, come into contact with Grace over the last few days and come forward with any detail, no matter how small," he said.

Police said they had received dozens of calls to a hotline and more than 25 staff were working on the case, trawling through hours of CCTV footage to trace her movements.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We are providing consular support to the family in the UK, and working with the New Zealand Police in relation to reports of a missing British national in New Zealand."

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