Internet users in New Zealand have searched for the identity of the 26-year-old man accused of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane more than 100,000 times, Google statistics show.
Search giant Google also emailed the suppressed name to anyone signed up to its “what’s trending in New Zealand” email, the Spinoff reported.
The generic no-reply email, viewed by the Herald, names the accused in its subject heading.
“[Accused] was trending on Google yesterday. (New Zealand),” the email sent earlier this week reads.
The accused’s name was searched more than 100,000 times, according to the email.
On Monday, the accused’s name was the second-most searched through Google in New Zealand with over 50,000 searches.
Related Google searches automatically provided by the Silicon Valley giant included; “[Accused] New Zealand”, “Grace Millane’s [alleged] killer” and “Grace Millane murder accused”.
The 10th most searched phrase in New Zealand on Google yesterday was also “who murdered Grace Millane UK”.
The most popular search was “Grace Millane UK” which quickly led users to news articles from British newspapers who were naming the accused.
But it is not just Google that is disseminating the accused’s name.
Herald searches on social media platforms Twitter and Facebook show hundreds of posts, comments hashtags and photos of the accused.
Twitter’s search function automatically completes the accused’s full name when simply typing the first letter of his name.
However, the problem is not new.
A Herald investigation earlier this year found some high-profile New Zealand court cases were having suppressed details published on Google.
The Herald has approached Google for comment on the Grace Millane case, however, it earlier said it was “not in the business of censoring news”.
Prominent human rights and privacy lawyer Michael Bott said at the time Google was “thumbing its nose” and “expressing a high degree of arrogance” at New Zealand’s court orders, which threatened fair trial rights and due process.
Auckland University law professor Dr Bill Hodge told Newstalk ZB’s Larry Williams this week the breaches by overseas websites was just one of the issues of modern media.
“It’s enforceable in New Zealand if you or I repeat or republish what the Daily Mail said, but the Daily Mail is effectively beyond reach,” he said.
“The law is applicable, it’s just not enforceable. The Attorney-General will not be going off to the Queen’s Bench in London to prosecute the Daily Mail for publishing a name and they don’t really have a presence here that can be prosecuted.
“We’ve had these issues with trans-jurisdictional websites publishing things sort of
worldwide even though they are banned in the jurisdiction of source and it’s just one of the issues of modern media and websites and international press.”
New Zealand’s Government and courts, however, will serve Google with orders to remove content for issues such as breaches of privacy and security, defamation, copyright infringements, impersonations and harassment.
Millane was murdered on the weekend of her 22nd birthday, just a day after she arrived in Auckland as part of a one-year solo OE.
She had landed in New Zealand 10 days earlier and had been travelling around the North Island before settling in Auckland for a visit.
Her body has been returned to her family and they are in the process of taking her home to Essex in England during the next few days.
A 26-year-old man has been charged with Millane’s murder.
He applied for name suppression when he appeared in the Auckland District Court, but Judge Evangelos Thomas refused to grant the order.
The man’s lawyer then indicated he would appeal that decision in the High Court.
This means the accused, who will appear in court again next month, was granted interim suppression for the 20 working days allowed for him to make that appeal.
As of yesterday, no appeal had been received by the High Court.
Detective Inspector Scott Beard, the police officer in charge of the Grace Millane investigation, also warned Kiwi social media users this week.
“We would like to remind the public that whilst we appreciate the public feeling around this case, it is an offence to breach a court order such as a name suppression, and this includes naming someone who has name suppression on social media,” he said.
Justice Minister Andrew Little also rebuked UK media for naming the murder accused, warning their actions risk jeopardising a fair trial, which could heap more misery on the grieving Millane family.
“I think it’s unfortunate the British papers have done what they’ve done. It will not do justice to the Millane family if the accused in this case gets to walk away from facing justice because somebody else has disclosed his details,” Little said earlier this week.
The naming of the man, which also occurred on social media, could be used to argue that he won’t get a fair trial, Little said.
“The defence counsel will be looking for every opportunity to say fair trial rights might be compromised. The guy at some point will face court and potentially a trial in New Zealand
“If he doesn’t, and he gets to walk away, that’s a further injustice to the Millane family.”