Grace Millane murder suspect called her 'beautiful, very radiant' in creepy social media message hours before 'killing her'

Grace, from Essex, was killed last week and a 26-year-old man has now appeared in court in Auckland charged with her murder.

Wearing blue police-issue overalls, he faced Auckland District Court and stood for nearly 90 minutes just yards from Grace's dad and uncle.

Not long before Grace, 22, went missing, he described her on a social media site as "beautiful very radiant".

It comes after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today told Grace's family: "I'm sorry."

The killing has shocked residents of New Zealand, where serious crimes are relatively rare and camping in remote mountains and farmlands is widely regarded as safe for tourists and New Zealanders alike.

What we know so far:

  • A 26-year-old man has appeared in court charged with British backpacker Grace Millane's murder
  • Court records say Grace lay dead for a week after going missing last weekend
  • The suspect, who cannot be named, had been living at the Citylife Hotel where Grace was last seen
  • He was called a 'scumbag' from the public gallery as Grace's family and friends sat yards away
  • Grace's body was found near the Waitakere Reservoir and dam, a hiking hotspot
  • Her devastated family have paid tribute to graduate Grace calling her 'my only sunshine'
  • On the day of her disappearance she told pals at the hostel 'I’m going to see a friend'

She said: "On behalf of New Zealand, I want to apologise to Grace's family. Your daughter should have been safe here and she wasn't, and I am sorry for that.

"There is this overwhelming sense of hurt and shame that this has happened in our country, a place that prides itself on our hospitality, on our manaakitanga," she said, using a Maori word for welcoming and generosity.

The suspect, who cannot be identified, is understood to have been living in the Citylife Hotel where tragic Grace was last seen alive.

He entered no plea and said nothing during his appearance, merely nodding as the Judge Evangelos Thomas remanded him in custody until January 23 at the High Court.

Prison officers led him to the cells as a man in the gallery shouted “scumbag” and Grace's family and friends sat nearby.

After spending the weekend in police cells, he will now be transferred to the Mount Eden remand centre.

Judge Evangelos Thomas refused the man’s application for name suppression but was forced to order a delay in any publication for at least 20 working days pending the outcome of an appeal.

Judge Thomas began the hearing with a heartfelt message saying: “I would like to acknowledge the presence of Grace’s family”, although her father David, who flew to Auckland hoping to find his daughter alive, could not be seen in the packed public gallery.

"I do not know what to say to you,” said Judge Thomas. “Your grief must be desperate. All of us hope justice is fair and swift and ultimately brings your some peace.”

But he added: “That will not be happening today.”

Court records show that Grace's body lay dead for up to a week and police have said her cause of death won't be revealed after a post mortem has been completed.

The suspect, whose occupation is unknown, is alleged to have killed Grace between December 1 and 2.

He was seen entering CityLife Hotel with Grace last Saturday and has since been charged with her murder.

Police have not said how the pair met but his home address is listed as the same hotel she disappeared from.

Mr Millane, thought to have been joined in Auckland by one of Grace’s two brothers, had been seen walking alone past the front of the district court in shorts and a t shirt an hour before the alleged killer was brought in through a back entrance in the back seat of a police car.

It comes as her devastated family paid tribute to tragic Grace.

Her brother Declan Millane wrote out the lyrics to You Are My Sunshine, along with a series of pictures of them both, as the desperate hunt to find her came to a close.

The 22-year-old's brother wrote: "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey.

"You'll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away."

Hundreds of people showed their support for the family, writing messages of love and sympathy on Declan's post.

Detective Inspector Scott Beard said the body was found off a countryside road outside the city of Auckland, adding "our hearts go out to them [the family]."

Her dad, millionaire property developer David, 60, had flown to New Zealand earlier in the week, where he made an emotional appeal for help.

Fighting back tears at a press conference, he asked for anyone with information, “any detail, no matter how small”, to come forward.

Mr Millane, from Wickford, Essex, said: “Grace is a lovely, outgoing, fun-loving, family-orientated daughter. Grace has never been out of contact for this amount of time.

“She’s usually in daily contact with either her mother, myself, her two brothers or members of the family on social media. We have been extremely concerned for her welfare.

“We are all extremely upset and it is very difficult at this time to fully describe the range of emotions we are all going through.”

Police quizzed Grace's suspected killer over her disappearance after she was seen on CCTV going into a hotel with a man she met on the night she vanished.

It was thought to be the last sighting of millionaire’s daughter Grace, who was on a gap year trip.

The spot where the body was found is near the Waitakere Reservoir and dam, a hiking hotspot.

Det Insp Beard also revealed investigators are analysing a hire car as part of the probe.

The red Toyota Corolla hatchback was hired from a central Auckland rental firm just before lunchtime on December 2, the day after Grace was last seen alive.

Cops have appealed for sightings of the car in the west Auckland area between 6.30am and 9.30am on Monday.

Grace was last seen on Saturday night and was still booked into the £10-a-night Base Backpackers party hostel.

On the day of her disappearance she told pals at the hostel, “I’m going to see a friend”. She messaged others saying she was meeting a guy, her family said.

It is unclear how she met the man suspected of killing her.

Timeline of British backpacker Grace Millane murder investigation

November 20 – Grace arrives in New Zealand after travelling in Peru

December 1 – She is seen at the CityLife Hotel, in Auckland, with a 'male companion'

December 2 – Her family hear nothing from her on her 22nd birthday. On the same day a red Toyota Corolla hatchback is rented from a car hire firm

December 5 – A missing persons report is filed by her worried family

December 6 – Police release an image of Grace leaving the hostel on the evening of December 1

December 7 – Her dad David Millane makes an emotional plea for help as police reveal they have spoken to the male companion

December 8 – A 26-year-old man is taken into custody

December 9 – Police find a body they believe to be Grace

December 10 – A 26-year-old man appears in court charged with her murder

Before the CityLife Hotel footage emerged, the last confirmed sighting of Grace had been CCTV of her dressed for a night out as she left the Sky City casino complex at 7.15pm.

She was wearing a pink £5,000 prize draw wristband, suggesting she planned to return to the casino, just a few minutes from the hotel.

Matt Searle, chief executive of the Lucie Blackman Trust, which is working with Grace’s family, confirmed police were exploring the possibility she met someone online.

He said: “Speaking to the police in Auckland, it is an avenue they are looking at but we think the Tinder side of it is unsubstantiated.

“We have had literally hundreds of people telling us she’s on Tinder.

“We don’t know who this guy was or how she met him and everyone is keeping a very open mind as to how that came about.”

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