December 1, 2022 10.40 am This story is over 16 months old

Grace Millane’s murder: How her death changed UK law for good

On the 4th anniversary of Grace Millane’s death, we explore how the horror of her murder prompted real change

By Local Democracy Reporter

Four years ago today, a bright-eyed University of Lincoln graduate had her young life cruelly stripped from her in a brutal murder. Grace Millane’s case shocked people the world over, and it changed the law as we know it forever.

In 2018, University of Lincoln marketing graduate Grace Millane went backpacking in New Zealand when she met Jesse Kempson on dating app Tinder, going for drinks with him the day before her 22nd birthday. It was to be the last decision she would ever make in her life.

The last sighting of Grace was on CCTV, stepping into lift with Jesse Kempson at the CityLife hotel in Auckland on December 1, 2018.

Jesse Kempson in court during the trial. | Photo: ITV

Her body was not found until eight days later, after Kempson attempted a calculated covering of his tracks, putting her body inside a suitcase he had bought that day before dumping Grace in the Waitakere Ranges.

Police identified Kempson as a suspect after seeing he was the last person to leave a comment on Grace’s Facebook profile picture. He lied to police about his date with Grace and was released due to a lack of physical evidence.

Photo issued by Auckland City Police. Inspectors used luminal to highlight blood stains on the floor of the killer’s apartment.

However, investigators issued a search warrant on his hotel room and found large amounts of blood stains on the carpet, as it was later discovered on CCTV that Kempson went to buy cleaning products and a shovel the morning after the murder – in a bid to clean up any incriminating evidence.

His attempts to eradicate the evidence proved futile, and when he was called back in for police interview, his story changed completely as he adopted the chilling defence of rough sex.

Photo: Screenshot from video by Chris Tarpey/New Zealand Herald

Kempson claimed to police that Grace discussed wanting “violent sex” with him after having read Fifty Shades of Grey. He again denied killing her, though.

After initially saying he and Grace went their separate ways early that evening, Kempson then altered his story to say he remembered kissing Grace and going back to the hotel with her. Investigating officers referred to him as a “narcissist”.

Officers would go on to arrest and charge Jesse Kempson, then 28, with Grace’s murder and after a three-week trial in November 2019 – he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 17 years.

Tributes poured in for Grace Millane. | Photo: Facebook

Kempson has since been convicted of further sex attacks on women, serving 11 year sentences for two additional charges concurrently with his time in prison for Grace’s murder.

The incident and subsequent case surrounding Grace’s death was explored in great detail on an ITV2 documentary last year, which looked at never-before seen footage and evidence that helped police identify Jesse Kempson as the prime suspect.

Grace changed the world

The Millane family. | Photo: New Zealand Police

The case of Grace Millane prompted a paradigm shift in legislature, as the rough sex defence used by Jesse Kempson was banned in England and Wales as part of a 2020 reevaluation of domestic abuse legislation.

Her death was a tragedy, hurting and leaving scars for her loved ones to manage for the rest of their lives, but the legacy she leaves behind is one of life-changing consequences.

The banning of rough sex defences in court has offered an avenue of strength for victims and families across the country, a chance for justice against those who commit these violent acts.

It took the horrifying murder of a 21-year-old woman at the hands of a dangerous man to prompt this law change, rather than the placing of trust in the accounts of victims.

Her Lincoln legacy

A tribute has gone up at the University of Lincoln’s hockey pitch, where Grace used to play as captain of the Ladies 2’s team. | Photo: Lincoln Uni Hockey Society on Instagram

Grace Millane’s name will be remembered forever, and each year tributes are placed at the University of Lincoln’s hockey pitch – a place she spent so much of her time.

Each year, the University of Lincoln’s Hockey Society host Grace Week, a series of friendly sporting events that raise money for a number of domestic abuse and sexual violence charities.

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