WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made an emotional apology Monday to the family of a 22-year-old British tourist who police say was murdered.
Ardern spoke about the nation’s reaction to the case several hours after the man that police accuse of killing Grace Millane made his first appearance in court. Police on Sunday found a body in a forested area near Auckland which they believe is Millane’s.
“From the kiwis I have spoken to, there is this overwhelming sense of hurt and shame that this has happened in our country, a place that prides itself on our hospitality,” Ardern said at her weekly media briefing, using a colloquial term for New Zealanders.
“On behalf of New Zealand, I want to apologize to Grace’s family,” Ardern said, her voice breaking with emotion. “Your daughter should have been safe here, and she wasn’t. And I’m sorry for that.”
Ardern said it wasn’t necessarily her role to apologize for individual acts of violence, but she’d sensed that New Zealanders were feeling a collective sense of shame over the case and that many were taking it personally.
Earlier, the 26-year-old man accused of killing Millane stared at the floor while a judge addressed him during his brief appearance at the Auckland District Court. The man has not yet entered a plea on murder charges and the court has temporarily blocked his name from being published.
Millane’s father, David Millane, traveled to New Zealand last week after his daughter vanished, and Judge Evangelos Thomas addressed him and other family members.
“I don’t know what to say to you at this time, but your grief must be desperate,” he said, according to television station Three. “We all hope justice will be fair and swift and ultimately bring you some peace.”
As the man was led away from the dock, somebody in the public gallery yelled out “Scumbag!” Three reported.
The case has riveted people both in Britain and New Zealand.
Described by her father as fun-loving and family-oriented, Grace Millane had been traveling in New Zealand as part of a planned yearlong trip abroad that began in Peru. She went missing Dec. 1 and failed to get in touch with her family on her birthday the next day, or on the days that followed, which alarmed them.
Before she vanished, Millane had been staying at a backpacker hostel in Auckland and left some of her belongings there. Detective Inspector Scott Beard said she met a man for a couple of hours in the evening before surveillance cameras showed them entering the CityLife hotel at about 9:40 p.m.
A week after Millane disappeared, police detained a man for questioning and later charged him with murder.
On Sunday, police found a body in a forested area about 10 meters (33 feet) from the side of the road in the Waitakere Ranges near Auckland. Police believe Millane’s body was taken to the area in a rental car.
Police said the car, a red Toyota Corolla, was rented for 24 hours and returned to an Auckland rental agency on Dec. 3, meaning Millane’s body could have been in the forest for six days before it was found.
The suspect’s lawyer, Ian Brookie, on Monday applied for name suppression on the basis his client needed it for a fair trial, an argument that Judge Thomas rejected on the basis of open justice. Brookie appealed, triggering the man’s name to be temporarily suppressed.
The man is being held in custody and is scheduled to make his next court appearance Jan. 23.
Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.