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Detective Inspector Scott Beard. With a daughter in her 20s, Scott felt special empathy for Grace Millane's parents.

Case management

Soon after Detective Inspector Scott Beard returned home to Auckland after attending Grace Millane’s funeral in England just over one year ago, he found out he had cancer. The most high-profile case of his career had combined with the biggest challenge in his personal life. He talks to Ellen Brook.

Scott Beard has been into running and exercising his whole life. He doesn’t feel right if he can’t get out for a run a few times a week. It’s just part of his DNA. Just like being a grafting cop for 40 years and being a good dad to his four adult children and three grandkids.

Getting the heart pumping and clearing the head have not only kept him fit for his beloved football, but it’s been an effective destresser from the rigours of the job, including, last year, being the police frontperson in the high-profile Grace Millane murder case.

The horrible killing of the 22-year-old English tourist in New Zealand resonated around the world as, each day, new information emerged about her disappearance. But it was business as usual for the veteran detective and he remained positive that it would be solved by the thorough work of a competent police team.

As it transpired, it was a revelation in Scott’s personal life that turned out to be far more challenging, including doctor’s orders to lay off the exercise.

In February 2019, Scott, then 57, had just returned from England, where he and Police family liaison officer Toni Jordan had, while completing investigation work, attended Grace Millane’s funeral. “That was important from the point of view of focusing on the victim and her family,” he says.

It was, understandably, an intense experience and, with a daughter in her 20s, Scott felt special empathy for Grace’s parents. His own health was the last thing on his mind...

Soon after he got home, he had his annual check-up with his doctor – the usual tests for blood pressure and cholesterol and a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test – that he’d started having when he turned 50.

“I’ve always been alert to the results for the first two tests because there’s a history of high blood pressure in my family, but it never entered my mind to worry about the prostate test. I didn’t even really know what it was, and I certainly didn’t feel unwell,” he says.

In fact, the test showed that his PSA levels were up considerably on the previous year and the doctor suggested another test in six weeks.

“The results of that were much higher and I was sent to see a urologist in April. He recommended a biopsy and said I would get the results in three weeks. Ten days later, 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 that it would be positive for cancer,” he says.

He was right and, suddenly, he says, his world changed. “The hardest part was getting my head around the ‘cancer’ word and the connotations of it.”

Scott and the specialist discussed the treatment options – radiation, manual surgery or robotic surgery.

He chose the robot-assisted option and was scheduled for surgery to remove his prostate on July 18. He told the specialist that, no matter what happened, he had to be up and about by November 4 – the start of the High Court trial in Auckland for Grace’s killer.

The operation went well, although the surgeon found that the cancer was more advanced than expected and, as a result, also removed a nerve and glands.

The recovery time was six weeks, and any running or other exercise was off the table. “I’ve stayed fit all my life, so it was hard to be told that I couldn’t do anything for a while,” Scott says. However, he resolved to make the best of the time (see sidebar story).

He was back at work on September 2 and found he tired easily, but he made the November 4 deadline, sitting beside Grace’s mother for the three weeks of the trial.

Although he had briefed the Millanes on all the evidence that would be put before the court, it was still an incredibly upsetting experience for the parents, Scott says.

“There were many times when she [Gillian Millane] was upset and I would ask her if she wanted to leave, but she wouldn’t.

“Any homicide is tragic when a family loses a loved one, but in this case, the whole country seemed to be affected. As New Zealanders, we could all relate to this story of a young tourist travelling alone in another country. The international nature of it meant the story spread even wider,” he says.

Scott and his team received hundreds of cards from the public, either for police personally or to be passed on to the Millanes, before and after the trial.

That support meant a lot to the police on the team. At one stage there were 50 staff on the case.

Part of Scott’s role was to make sure the OC and the team were able to do their job without distractions. As the DI, he ensured they were adequately resourced, on the right track and focused. He dealt with PNHQ and the Auckland bosses, and oversaw the media strategy.

“This was not a difficult case in itself,” he says. “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 cellphone technology, but as the case progressed, each day it was a story that just got sadder and sadder, with the inevitable ending.”

His job was also to stand in front of the media on behalf of his team and Police.

Scott is no stranger to the cameras. Apart from regular news briefings, in 2018 he was involved in a TVNZ Cold Case story about the unsolved murder of a Japanese woman in central Auckland and he featured in a Sunday programme about a kidnapped baby. He has had media training and completed the Australian Mosc (Management of Serious Crime) programme and an FBI course that included police and media, as well as public speaking.

He generally has an excellent relationship with the media, he says. ‘The media are a huge investigative tool and can certainly help in resolving crime.”

But everything has to be managed. Scott says he learnt a valuable lesson years ago when live streaming had just come in. “I copped some criticism after a fatal pursuit because the light banter that I often use with reporters ahead of a press conference went out live. People thought I wasn’t taking the matter seriously. The lesson is that, these days especially, when you face the media, the minute you step out the door, everything is recorded and live streamed.

“When we found Grace’s body, we tried to organise the annoucement in time for media to make the 6pm news, but it took longer than expected. Immediately after we had recovered Grace, I let her father know, then walked straight in front of the cameras.

“There was no time for any prep... We had found her and that had been our job – to find Grace. There was a whole range of emotions in a short space of time.”

In the live feed, there was a final question that, on the face of it, seemed a little naive: “How’s her dad doing?”

Scott’s sombre and pragmatic demeanour shifted slightly as he replied, with obvious feeling in his voice: “Any father, any parent, in this situation will struggle. 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.

Homicides are always full of such emotion, but this one was notable, he says. “When the jury’s guilty verdict for murder was announced, it was the most emotional courtroom I have ever been in. Grace’s mum and dad were crying, the jury were crying, the media – many of whom were young women – were crying, and some of the public and police were in tears too.”

On the upside, he says, the verdict was really pleasing for the police team and the family and, like the investigation, it had a positive impact on the trust and confidence of the public and support for Police.

Staying positive is now a key part of Scott’s future too. With his most recent PSA readings fluctuating, he has to have blood tests every three months. At some stage, he may need radiation treatment, but he remains positive and says “what will be will be”.

Having gone from not knowing much about the humble prostate, he’s now on a mission to make other men aware of the importance of having a blood test to check their PSA levels.

“I didn’t hide the fact that I had this disease, but I didn’t exactly broadcast it, either,” he says. “I told the district commander and my direct supervisor when I was diagnosed, and then other staff just before the operation. I didn’t want sympathy, but I did need understanding because I was going to need to take time out for medical appointments, etc.

“Now, I’m fine to talk about it – it’s about education and prevention.

“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.”

When Scott got the previous all-clear from his doctor, that night he went straight out for a run. He admits he had been sneaking in the occasional short jog before that, but the moment he got the go-ahead, he was back out there with a new lease on life – keeping his DNA happy.

Health Plan reconsiders “unfair” costs

During six weeks of recovery from his prostate surgery, Scott put the time to good use.

He had opted for robot-assisted surgery that allows doctors to perform procedures with extra precision, flexibility and control.

When he found out that Police Health Plan would cover only $28,000 of the $32,500 cost of the surgery, leaving him with a $4500 bill, he thought that seemed unfair when the other options – radiation treatment and conventional manual surgery – were fully covered.

“Dealing with cancer is bad enough, but when this extra financial burden is added it seemed totally unfair,” he says.

With time on his hands, he resolved to look into the issue. His first port of call was to ask Welfare Fund manager Pete Hayes why the whole cost was not covered as it was for the other options.

He was told that the decision was based on research done by Best Doctors Inc – a group of international medical specialists who offer advice to individuals, employers and insurance companies – which suggested the operation was not worth the amount being charged over the UCR (usual, customary and reasonable) cost for conventional surgery of $28,000.

Scott asked to see the report. When he realised it was from 2014 and that many of the references were dated even earlier, going back several years, he did a bit more digging.

“Modern medicine moves quickly and five years is a long time. I looked into current robotic techniques and the benefits were clear – more precise, less risk of infection, less risk of damage to other organs and fewer side-effects than the other options. Radiation can weaken the prostate, among other side-effects, and with the manual operation you’re in hospital for four days, as opposed to one night with the robotic surgery.”

He wrote to Police Health Plan urging it to pay the full amount, backing up his request with his comprehensive research, a cost analysis and support from his surgeon, Mischel Neill.

“Soon after I got back to work, I got a call from Pete saying the Health Plan management felt I had put forward a good case. They couldn’t argue with my argument.”

Police Health Plan refunded Scott his money and has agreed to cover a UCR amount for robotic-assisted surgeries, backdated to July 1, 2019.

“The Health Plan’s earlier research was correct at the time,” says Pete, “and, like anything we do, we needed to review more recent information, much of it provided from Scott’s comprehensive research.”

He adds that, despite the use of robots, the most important factor for the success of the procedure remains the competence of the surgeon. “The more experienced they are in using the robotic technology, the more likely it is there will be a better outcome for our members having the procedure.”

Police Health Plan continues to review cover for new technologies and balances that demand against the best clinical outcome for members. “That is what we are here to do.”