Grace Millane murder: the worrying trend of the ‘50 Shades’ rough sex defence

A 27-year-old man has been found guilty of the murder of British backpacker Grace Millane.

Grace was strangled by a man she met on dating site Tinder in Auckland on December 1, 2018.

The murder is the latest case to highlight a growing trend of what campaigners have described as the so-called ‘50 Shades defence’.

The man, whose name is subject to a suppression order so cannot be named, spent several hours drinking with Grace on the night they met before they went back to his apartment.

His trial heard that Grace, from Wickford, Essex, was killed either that night or in the early hours of the next morning – the date of her 22nd birthday. Her body was found a week later buried in a suitcase in a forested area outside Auckland.

The 27-year-old has now been remanded into custody until his sentencing on February 21, 2020.

He faces life in prison with a minimum of 10 years without parole.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 22: The parents of Grace Millane, David and Gillian Millane speak to media outside Auckland High Court on November 22, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. A 27 year old man has been found guilty of the murder of British backpacker Grace Millane, whose body was found  in bush in West Auckland's Waitakere Ranges on 9 December 2018. Jurors at Auckland's High Court took about four hours to convict him of her murder. He will be sentenced at a later date. A suppression order remains in place, prohibiting the publication of the accused's name or picture. (Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images)
Grace's parents David and Gillian Millane wept as her killer was found guilty of murder (Picture: Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

Grace’s parents David and Gillian wept as the verdict was delivered.

Mr Millane said: “It will not reduce the pain and suffering we have had to endure over the past year. Grace was taken in the most brutal fashion a year ago and our lives have been ripped apart.

“Grace was our sunshine and she will be missed forever.”

What was Grace’s killer’s defence?

During his trial, Grace’s killer’s defence claimed her death was accidental and happened during rough sex.

The court was told that Grace had an interest in BDSM and had been using BDSM dating site Whiplr an hour before she met the defendant.

The court was also told that she had allowed a former partner to choke her during sex.

During the trial, the court heard that Grace had an interest in BDSM and had experimented with choking with a former sexual partner (Pictures: PA)
During the trial, the court heard that Grace had an interest in BDSM and had experimented with choking with a former sexual partner (Pictures: PA)

He gave a written statement to the court saying: "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.”

He said the pair had a safe word or tapped the other person three times to indicate they wanted to stop.

During the trial, defence barrister Ron Mansfield said: “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.”

Edmonton, Canada - September 1, 2012: A close-up shot of the erotic novel, "Fifty Shades of Grey." Featuring explicit erotic scenes, this novel has sold 40 million copies worldwide and has set the record of being the fastest-selling paperback of all time.
Campaigners have described the worrying trend of the so-called '50 Shades' defence, which sees men use rough sex as a defence for killing their partners (Picture: Getty)

Why the ‘50 shades defence’ is a ‘worrying’ trend

Grace Millane’s murder is the latest case in what campaigners have described as a worrying trend in the so-called ‘50 Shades defence’.

Fiona Mackenzie, from campaign group We Can’t Consent To This, said: “Grace is now the 59th UK woman to be killed by a man in what he claims to be sex, that she requested, gone wrong.

“This is a just verdict this time, but just under half the time these claims work in getting a lesser charge like manslaughter, a lighter sentence, or the woman's death not being treated as a crime at all. Even where these men convicted of murder, they use the women's sexual history against her, their claims repeated in headlines. We must stop blaming women for their own homicides.”

In October, We Can’t Consent To This said since 2000 the number of accused men using the rough sex defence had increased tenfold.

It said there had been at least 58 deaths of women in the UK where the accused has suggested the victims consented to the violence that killed them and in nearly half of those cases (45%) the defence led to a lesser charge, a lesser sentence or no action at all.

John Broadhurst, 40, arrives at Birmingham Crown Court where he is due to be sentenced for the gross negligence manslaughter of his partner, 26-year-old Natalie Connolly, who died at their home in Kenrose Hill Kniver, Stourbridge, West Midlands, in the early hours of December 18, 2016. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)
John Broadhurst claimed that partner Natalie Connolly was hurt as a result of consensual sexual activity fuelled by alcohol and drugs (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)

Those cases include the death of Natalie Connolly, whose boyfriend John Broadhurst left her for dead after rough sex.

Broadhurst, 40, was initially charged with murder but later admitted manslaughter by gross negligence. He claimed the 26-year-old mother-of-one was hurt as a result of consensual sexual activity fuelled by alcohol and drugs.

His sentence of three years and eight months was branded “disgraceful” by Natalie’s father.

Former Women’s Minister Harriet Harman - who called for a review of the ‘unduly lenient’ sentencing - has also said the Domestic Abuse Bill in the UK should be amended to ban the use of consent as a defence.

She said previously: “Men are literally getting away with murder by using the rough sex defence.”

Ms Harman added: "We cannot have a situation where men kill women and blame them. No man will ever be accused of murder again if he can always say, 'yes she's injured, she wanted it'.

"She will never be able to say, 'no I didn't' because he's killed her and therefore she hasn't got a voice."

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