Sunday Feature: Kiwi who murdered girlfriend in UK now in NZ jail after new assaults

Source: Sunday

For two weeks he fronted up to police, the media and the public to deny any knowledge of his girlfriend’s whereabouts.

John Tanner, with his long hair and pimples, played the concerned boyfriend and insisted that he last saw girlfriend Rachel McLean at the railway station in Oxford, where the 19-year-old was a student.

But behind the elaborate stories he concocted for Police was a sinister truth – Tanner, 22, had strangled Rachel and hidden her body under the floorboards of her flat.

The case of the young student’s killing became one of Britain’s most notorious murder cases and Tanner’s trial was daily fodder for the tabloid press.

It would have remained in the history books had TVNZ 1's Sunday not heard about another serious violent attack, hauntingly familiar, involving the same perpetrator 27 years on.

Tanner, now 49, had violently assaulted his partner over a period of six months last year.

In the first incident, the couple were staying at a motel in Whanganui central when Tanner became upset with the woman and they argued. She was brushing her teeth and he walked up behind her, dragged her out of the bathroom and threw her on the bed.

He jumped on her and put his hands across her neck, restricting her breathing.

In another incident, when the woman told Tanner she was leaving him he threatened to kill her.

The worst of the violence happened when they argued at Tanner’s home in rural Pauri Road on the outskirts of Whanganui.

Tanner held his partner down by the wrists and straddled her. He yelled at her to tell him about her ex-partner and then punched her in the head. She suffered a graze and bruising.

The woman left the house and went to a motel. She sent Tanner a text that the relationship was over but he showed up and they argued. She cowered on the bed and he pulled her clothes off saying he wanted sex.

The Crown says the woman was trying to get away and fell to the ground, where Tanner punched her several times around the head.

She started to cry and Tanner said, "look what you made me do’".

The Whanganui District Court was told Tanner’s victim, who cannot be identified, knew of his murder conviction. She is standing by him.

Judge Philip Crayton said Tanner had ''a tendency or a potential, in certain circumstances, as here, to lose his control’’.

Prosecutor Michele Wilkinson-Smith said there were similarities between the UK murder of Rachel Mclean and Tanner’s offending last year.

“The loss of control and the restriction of breathing, and the similar sort of domestic relationship.’’

Mrs Wilkinson-Smith said the victim had been reluctant to see Tanner prosecuted on some of the charges he faced in court.

“While I will always consider the views of a victim, the role of the Crown is to prosecute on behalf of the community. I have to lay the appropriate charges on the evidence that I have, bearing in mind public interest in prosecution and bearing in mind issues of safety for the community.”

Tanner would have been recalled to prison to complete his life sentence if he had been living in the UK when he offended again.

He was deported back to New Zealand in 2003 after serving 12 years of his sentence.

Tanner resumed his studies at Victoria University and later became a personal trainer at a gym in Wellington. But by 2010 he was back living in Whanganui and working as a baker. He played soccer for the Wanganui Collegiate Old Boys team, his former school.

Tanner did not speak to Police about the incidents and declined a request from Sunday to be interviewed.

His lawyer told the court Tanner had been "dumped" back in New Zealand 15 years ago without any support apart from his family.

Tanner has received a jail sentence of two years and nine months for the assaults and is eligible for parole in February.