5 Mar 2024

David Benbow sentenced to at least 17 years' jail for murder of Michael McGrath

5:50 pm on 5 March 2024

Christchurch man David Benbow has been sentenced to life in jail with no parole for 17 years for the murder of a childhood friend.

Michael McGrath, 49, was last seen at his Halswell home in May 2017, and he was due to visit Benbow the next day.

Benbow claimed his friend never turned up, but in October he was found guilty of murdering McGrath with a firearm.

David Benbow appears at the High Court in Christchurch for sentencing.


Justice Jonathan Eaton described the murder as an execution style killing.

He said the high level of planning, including the fact that McGrath's body has never been found added to the length of the sentence.

During the Christchurch High Court trial, the prosecution said that Benbow - a former prison guard - killed McGrath after learning that he was in a relationship with Benbow's ex-partner of 17 years, Joanne Green.

Michael McGrath

Michael McGrath Photo: NZ Police

McGrath's mother, Adrienne McGrath, said she could not believe her son would never come home again.

In her victim impact statement, she said she still laid in bed some nights and hoped her son would come knocking at her window.

"I'll never forget that first night when I realised that Michael was missing. That memory will haunt me forever.

"I still experience the pain of losing him every day, especially when I see or hear things that remind me of him."

McGrath's brother Simon, speaking after the guilty verdict, said the family still wanted to know where his brother's body was.

Simon said he hoped the government considered legislative changes to stop killers who do not co-operate with police being eligible for parole.

"I believe New Zealand needs to strengthen the law to follow... what's in many Australian states - no body, no parole."

In court, Simon said the memory of his brother's murder would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Simon McGrath, brother of Michael McGrath. Christchurch man David Benbow has been found guilty at the High Court in Christchurch on 12 October 2023 of murdering Michael McGrath.

Simon McGrath, brother of Michael McGrath, at the High Court in October. Photo: RNZ / Nathan McKinnon

Green told the court she despised Benbow and he took away her future.

Still not knowing where McGrath's body was made the loss even harder, she said.

"Every morning I wake up, every day, every night, constantly thinking and going over where Mike is. Is he at peace? Did he put up a fight? Did he suffer? What was his last thought?"

Green said only when Benbow was locked up would she feel that she and her daughters were safe.

Detective Inspector Kylie Schaare said while the sentence did not alter the grief and loss the McGrath's family have endured, he hoped it allowed them to start to process and find a way forward.

"They epitomise what it means to be heroes, they have shown immense courage dealing with a loss no family should have to endure."

Police said it was unrealistic to expect Benbow to reveal where he hid the body of his long-time friend.

Schaare said the McGrath family were unlikely to get answers from Benbow.

"We've heard today that the person sentenced still doesn't accept responsibility or remorse, so I think that's unrealistic, that we'll get an answer from that avenue at this time."

Schaare said the McGrath family had not been able to have a funeral or memorial service, which had been painful.