2 Dec 2023

Grace Millane: Five years after high-profile murder, friend marks what would have been Grace's 27th birthday

6:53 pm on 2 December 2023

By Catrin Owen of Stuff

Grace Millane

Grace Millane. Photo: Supplied / Facebook

Running 27 kilometres is a feat for many people, but one young woman is running that distance for a very special reason - to celebrate what would have been her friend Grace Millane's 27th birthday.

Saturday also marks five years since Grace was murdered, on the eve of her 22nd birthday after a date with her killer in Auckland.

Grace died sometime overnight on 1 December 2018. It is not known whether she lived past midnight to become 22 years old.

2 December will be etched in many people's minds. None more than Grace's family and friends who were thousands of miles away when they found out Grace was missing, and then, that she had been tragically killed.

But one of those friends, Hannah Burrell, marked the anniversary by celebrating Grace's life.

Burrell, who has been in Aotearoa for the past few months on a work secondment from England, knew she would be here for the fifth anniversary and wanted to honour her friend.

On arrival in Auckland, she joined a running group and made fast friends. She spoke with Grace's mother, Gillian Millane, about marking the day with a run and also fundraising for Shine - a charity supporting victims of domestic violence.

"For me being here - and being away from everyone else that knew her and the support network I had at home - it's been really nice to find another way of dealing with that here ... I'll probably be in tears at the end, but I've got people around me," Burrell said.

Detective Inspector Scott Beard, who led the investigation into Grace’s murder, joined Hannah Burrell for the last 6km of her run.

Detective Inspector Scott Beard, who led the investigation into Grace's murder, joined Burrell for the last 6km of her run. Photo: Stuff / Ricky Wilson

On Saturday, Burrell ran 27km around the Takapuna area, with friends, supporters and others joining in for some, if not all, the way. That support group included Detective Inspector Scott Beard, who led the investigation into Grace's killing, for the last 6km of the run.

For Burrell, she felt a lot of people knew what happened to Grace, but few knew anything about her friend beyond the headlines.

"I want people to come together so I can share a bit about Grace and who she was rather than just what happened to her."

Burrell met Grace when she joined the hockey team at the University of Lincoln.

"She was very bubbly, friendly, she would come to you and make you feel welcome."

The pair were part of a tight group of hockey friends.

"It sounds kind of cringe, but we were more like a family."

Burrell was still studying when she saw a post on Instagram saying Grace was missing, in December 2018.

Candles and flowers are laid next to a photo of Grace Millane during the vigil at Civic Square Park in Wellington.

A vigil for Grace Millane. Photo: AFP

Instantly, she said she felt something was wrong and from then on, the case became intense with media coverage and the resulting murder trial.

Burrell followed coverage of the trial, while other friends did not.

"It was a harrowing and awful few weeks while I was still at uni."

Their group of friends got through it together, she said.

"We were all very lucky to have known her."

That year, she played alongside her team mates in a memorial game for Grace, something that has continued to this day at the University of Lincoln and she would have been going to if she was not in New Zealand.

Burrell did not think twice about coming over here for work, though.

"To not do that, because of something awful that happened would just be giving the power back to someone who doesn't deserve anything. It's not what Grace would have wanted."

Burrell knew there would be hard times in Auckland.

"There's been a few things where I've been caught out, I intentionally didn't refresh my memory on specific locations ... But just even as simple as driving past the High Court for the first time, that was a little bit jarring."

On Friday, Burrell travelled out to where Grace's body was found, buried in a shallow grave in the Waitākere Ranges. She laid flowers in Grace's memory.

She was supported by Beard and detective Toni Jordan, who was the family liaison officer during the trial.

"That will be tough," Burrell said earlier in the week.

Then, on Saturday, she ran - which she reckons Grace would have found hilarious.

She was be supported by "pillars of solidarity" in the friends she had made here.

But Burrell also wanted to open the conversation about domestic violence - to get people to stop and think.

"If there's just one person who comes along and even if they don't need help, but go into work on Monday and chat about it and that message gets to someone that needs it. That's quite incredible to me.

"It is a bit of a gift that something that was unfortunately so tragic and we lost Grace has led to some good, whether that's Love Grace or the handbags or what the uni is doing. That legacy has lived on even though Grace didn't."

Earlier this year Grace's mother Gillian spoke on a podcast where she discussed the life and legacy of her "amazing daughter".

"She was like my best friend. We used to do so much together. She lit up a room with a smile. She was family-orientated. Loved her two brothers and a little niece. She just was a joy. I mean, she was also a teenager at times," she said.

At the start of this year, Gillian Millane reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro on a climb to Grace and her husband, David Millane - who died of cancer in November 2020.

Grace was 21 when she was on a trip of a lifetime and landed in New Zealand on the second stop in her round-the-world OE.

Her disappearance and then the trial of her killer made international headlines.

Grace was killed after a Tinder date with a stranger in Auckland. A week later her body was found contorted inside a suitcase and buried in the Waitākere Ranges.

The killer, Jesse Kempson, was found guilty of her murder. He was not able to be named until December 2020 and media were finally able to report he had also attacked, raped and sexually assaulted two previous women.

On a podcast, Gillian Millane said the family refuses to use Kempson's name.

"We never mention his name. Why do I want to give him any air time?" she said.

"I don't think about him. I don't care. I don't care what happens to him. He came into our lives and destroyed our family."

Where to get help for domestic and sexual violence:

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

Empowerment Trust

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): 04 801 6655 - push 0 at the menu

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334

Male Survivors Aotearoa

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) 022 344 0496

This story was originally published by Stuff.

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