The detective who led the team who found Grace Millane's body and successfully prosecuted her murderer, has revealed he was battling cancer at the time.
Detective Inspector Scott Beard got the news he had prostate cancer after returning from England where he attended Millane's funeral in January last year.
Millane, who was 21, was on a world backpacking trip when she was murdered in December 2018 by a man she met on a Tinder date. Her killer, who cannot be named, will be sentenced this month.
Beard has been praised for his work on the case and his support of Millane's family. Shortly after her body was found in the Waitakere Ranges, and moments after informing her father, he broke the news of the discovery in an emotional roadside press conference.
Beard told the Herald that his prostate was removed using robot-assisted surgery four months before the start of the High Court murder trial.
He has told his cancer story in an article in Police News to encourage men to get regular health check-ups.
The cancer was picked up after his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) score jumped up. A biopsy found it was aggressive and on the surface of the organ.
Grace Millane's parents Dave Gillian walk out from the Auckland High Court with Detective Inspector Scott Beard, left, after the jury delivered a murder verdict. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Beard took six weeks off work after the operations but told few people at the time.
"It was a shock. Males can think we are indestructible," said Beard, who has been fit throughout his life.
He had come through the operation well and was back running and playing football.
While there was a family history of high blood pressure, he told PAN, he'd never thought to worry about his prostate,
"I didn't really know what it was, and certainly didn't feel unwell."
His annual health check revealed his PSA levels were considerably up on the previous year, and had jumped again when a follow-up test was done six weeks later.
A biopsy was done in April. "I got a phone call to say they had the results and I needed to make an appointment within a couple of days. I knew then it would be positive for cancer."
His prostate was removed in July.
He told the specialist that, no matter what. He had to be on deck by November 4, the start of the murder trial. He made the deadline and sat next to Millane's mother through the hearing.
Though Millane's parents, Dave and Gillian, were briefed on the evidence that would be put before the court, it was still an incredibly upsetting experience.
It was a case that affected the whole country - "a young tourist travelling alone in another country" - and Beard, who has a daughter of a similar age, admitted it hit him hard too.
"This wasn't a difficult case in itself," he said.
"The focus was on finding Grace and we believed all along that we would. There was so much evidence from CCTV footage as well as cell phone technology, but as the case progressed, each day it was a story that just got sadder and sadder, with the inevitable ending."
"Immediately after we had recovered Grace, I let her father know, then walked straight in front of the cameras."
He revealed a final media question, asking how Millane's dad was doing, jolted his normally pragmatic demeanour.
Grace Millane was murdered by a man she met on a dating website. Detective Inspector Scott Beard got the news he had prostate cancer after returning from England where he attended her funeral in January last year. Photo / Supplied
"Any father, any parent, in this situation will struggle," he said in response. "I feel for him. I have a daughter in her 20s. So, yeah, we are putting a lot of support around him. It's difficult because he is here with a brother from England and the rest of the family are back home. So, our hearts go out to them."
In hindsight, Scott says, a potentially silly question helped open up the emotional heart of the case.
He is now lending his own health experience to help spread a message that could save lives.
"I now know that 3500 New Zealand men are diagnosed each year with prostate
cancer and 98.4 per cent survive. In the rest of the cases, it hasn't been picked up early enough.
"The message is clear. Get a check-up. It's a simple blood test."