The defence in the trial of a man accused of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane has begun its case in New Zealand.
According to The Telegraph, the defendant, a 27-year-old New Zealander who cannot be named for legal reasons, claims Grace died accidentally during sex at the end of a Tinder date in December last year.
Today the court was told that British backpacker Grace belonged to BDSM dating sites and allowed a former partner to choke her during sex.
An ex-boyfriend of the university graduate from Essex said they had used a system of safe words and signals to make sure she was never in danger.
In a statement read to the jury at Auckland High Court the man, whose identity is protected, said: ‘When we researched it we knew the word was asphyxiation. Grace and I discussed keeping hands wide and on the side of the neck, never on the front.
‘Grace and I would have a safe word most of the time which we had discussed, something like “turtle” or something ridiculous.
‘Grace and I used a tapping practice too. If Grace tapped me three times then it would stop.
‘Grace would tap out maybe one in four times. Grace would be sure to do this and I trusted that anytime it was too much for Grace she would do this.
‘Grace and I were careful to discuss not only the physical but the psychological aspects to practising BDSM.’ Statements from police revealed that Grace had been active on BDSM dating site Whiplr an hour before meeting the defendant outside a central city casino.
‘That is her reputation and that should be her reputation and her memory at the start of this trial and at the conclusion if it.
‘The fact that we need to discuss with you what she liked to do in the bedroom should have no impact on he reputation at all.’
He added: ‘It’s important that we are fully informed. It’s not the time for embarrassment or immaturity.
‘If this couple engaged in consensual sexual activity which included pressure being applied to her neck with her consent and that went wrong, that is not murder.
‘Death through this mechanism may thankfully be rare but it does happen and sadly it happened here.’ Grace died at the defendant’s apartment in Auckland last December.
Mr Mansfield said he admits Grace died from pressure he placed on her neck but said expert evidence was consistent with his account that it was consensual, not violent.
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In his police interview, played at the trial last week, the defendant said he only realised Grace was dead when he found her lying on the floor.
He admits he later crammed her body into a suitcase which he buried in a shallow grave in nearby woodland. Grace Millane’s alleged murderer’s first interview with police.
Mr Mansfield claimed the defendant’s failure to call for help, disposal of Grace’s body and initial lies to police were due to ‘panic’.
He told the jury: ‘He may have thought he wouldn’t be believed, but don’t prove him right.’
The court has also heard evidence from pathologist Dr Fintan Garavan, appearing for the defence, who told the jury that due to the volume of alcohol Grace had drunk during the date, her heart may have gone into a ‘terminal tailspin’ when she was choked.
He told the jury a combination of obstruction of the blood flow, pressure on her nervous system and being drunk meant she might have died quickly.
He said there were no signs of her having struggled and that it ‘would not be obvious to a person nearby unless you know what you are looking for’ that she was in any danger.
A second defence barrister, Ian Brookie, told the court Grace had drunk six cocktails and a tequila shot and had shared three half-litre jugs of margaritas and sangria with her alleged killer while on their date.
Dr Garavan said: ‘It very likely has become an important indirect player in causing death’, explaining that being drunk could turn off a ‘safety valve’ which would normally trigger someone to fight for breath. He agreed the primary cause of death was asphyxiation, which he said would have required just one kilogram of pressure.
But under cross-examination, Dr Garavan agreed that once someone had become unresponsive during choking, the hold on their neck would have to continue for several minutes before death occurred. He added: ‘You would expect a sober person would notice something but not necessarily a drunk person.’ The trial continues.