WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fought back tears as she apologized on Monday to the family of a 22-year-old British woman who was killed while she was on a backpacking tour, two days after a man was charged with the Briton’s murder.
The killing has shocked residents of New Zealand, where serious crimes are relatively rare and camping in remote mountains and farmlands is widely regarded as safe for tourists and New Zealanders alike.
Grace Millane, who was traveling the world after finishing university, went missing in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, on Dec. 1.
Police found Millane’s body on Sunday in a bush area just a few meters from a scenic drive in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges. The body had not yet been formally identified but police said they believed it to be that of Millane.
“On behalf of New Zealand, I want to apologize to Grace’s family,” Ardern told a weekly news conference in parliament.
There was an overwhelming sense of hurt and shame among New Zealanders that this happened in their country, she said.
“Your daughter should have been safe here and she wasn’t, and I am sorry for that,” Ardern said.
A 26-year-old man appeared in an Auckland court on Monday charged with murdering Millane. He was questioned by police after being seen with Millane at several places.
The man requested that his name be suppressed in media coverage but this was declined by judge Evangelos Thomas, according to Radio New Zealand (RNZ).
However, his lawyer Ian Brookie appealed against the judge’s decision and the man cannot be identified until a decision on that appeal is made, RNZ reported.
The man was remanded in custody until he appears in court in January.
Thomas also addressed members of Millane’s family, who traveled from Britain to New Zealand and attended Monday’s court hearing.
“I don’t know what to say to you at this time but your grief must be desperate,” Thomas said, according to RNZ. “We all hope justice will be fair and swift and ultimately brings you some peace.”
Tributes poured in for the young backpacker from Essex, with flowers placed on Monday near the spot where her body was found. Nationwide candlelight vigils are being planned.
The case has also sparked a debate on Twitter about whether New Zealand was still safe for female backpackers and whether the killing would discourage women from traveling alone.
Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Paul Tait