Published: 11:16, 28 October 2019
| Updated: 13:21, 29 October 2019
Ben Lacomba has been found guilty of the murder of his former partner Sarah Wellgreen.
A jury at Woolwich Crown Court found Lacomba, of Bazes Shaw, New Ash Green guilty of killing the mother-of-three of his children after deliberating for just a few hours.
Lacomba, 39, had denied killing mum-of-five Miss Wellgreen, who was last seen at the home they shared on October 9 last year.
The four week trial began on Monday, September 30.
But a jury took just a few hours to convict the cab driver, having retired on Wednesday. The court took a scheduled break on Thursday and Friday.
Lacomba was arrested on October 16,2018, before being released on bail - but was arrested again two months later and charged with killing his ex.
The 46-year-old's body is yet to be found.
Sarah has not used her bank cards or mobile phone since October 9, and her black iPhone 4, believed to hold vital clues, has also never been found.
Lacomba showed no emotion after the verdict, but turned to look at his mother Marilyn, who blew him a kiss from the public gallery as he was led back to the cells.
There were emotional scenes outside the court room as Sarah’s son Jack and members of the Search for Sarah Wellgreen Group celebrated the verdict.
Neil James, Sarah’s partner at the time she was killed, spoke outside the court room after the verdict.
Lacomba gave evidence during the three-and a half week trial.
The court heard how he threw his mobile phones into the River Thames after she went missing.
He also previously told the court: “I’m in no way responsible for Sarah’s disappearance and I definitely have not killed her.”
Ben Lacomba found guilty of murdering former partner Sarah Wellgreen
Lacomba was asked to give an account of the night she went missing and give some background about their lives to the jury.
He told how he was born in Greenwich, to parents Marilyn and Juan Lacomba, grew up in Charlton, moved to Bexleyheath, and went to school in Bexleyheath and Erith.
He later moved to Majorca to train as a pilot, living with his Spanish grandmother and it was while there that he met Miss Wellgreen.
She moved out to live with him in Spain with her two older children, Jack and Lewis, and became pregnant.
The couple then decided to move to New Ash Green in 2005 and described the early years of the relationship as “brilliant.”
He said: "We were what I would describe as a fantastic team. We were a happy family.”
The trial heard how they had later split in 2014 and a custody battle had ensued over the children, while Sarah started a new relationship.
In 2018 they had decided to try to live together again and Sarah moved back into the house, but the relationship again soured and she had told Lacomba of her plans to buy him out of the house.
On October 8 that year, the day before she was last seen, Sarah secured a new job selling beauty products, in what was said to be a new step to financial independence.
The following night she arrived home, and went to her room, where she sent texts to friends - telling one: ‘there’s always something to look forward to, you just need to open your eyes a bit more and dream.’
Those messages were the last anyone heard from her, and she was never seen again.
Lacomba told the court he was in bed all night on the night she disappeared, but CCTV cameras captured his car moving out of New Ash Green in the early hours of the morning and south along country lanes to Plaxdale Green Road.
There, the CCTV trail went cold, until the car was captured on camera again returning along the same route two hours later - by which time prosecutors said Lacomba had disposed of Sarah's body.
During the trial the jury also heard evidence from a witness who saw Lacomba return to the house in the early hours, while phone evidence showed his two phones had connected with networks before and after the alleged two hour car journey.
With access to the phones themselves, prosecutors said they might have been able to find more - but Lacomba had driven to Greenhithe on October 14 to throw them in the Thames, as the police operation closed in on him.
Other evidence heard how Lacomba was said to have turned his own CCTV cameras off to avoid detection on the night Sarah disappeared.
Police scoured 22,000 hours of CCTV footage - from surrounding streets and properties, and number 22 Bazes Shaw, itself, where the estranged couple had been living together.
A search of the property revealed a long-handled shovel - described as a "grave-digger's shovel" by the prosecution - which Lacomba claimed he'd bought for his mother to help her dig his front garden, as she suffered with fibromyalgia and couldn't bend down easily.
Prosecutors mocked the claim - and suggested the shovel had been used to dig Sarah's grave.
Further CCTV evidence showed Lacomba's car was muddy the morning after Sarah disappeared, but clean by the time he got to Dartford later that morning, where he went to pay his rent at All Night Cars.
Colleagues at the taxi office remarked that morning how he was also wearing "horrible" new shoes that they had never seen before, and Lacomba explained he'd lost his normal pair.
The following week on October 16, Lacomba met with the taxi firm owner Nicholas Morris in the cafe next door, and asked if the police had been in.
"They clearly think it's you," Mr Morris had told him.
"Yeah, they clearly do," replied Lacomba, and he was arrested a short time later as he returned to Dartford Family Court- where he was trying to obtain an interim order for custody for his children.
He remained silent through five hours and 49 minutes of questioning before being released on bail. In December that year he was arrested again and has remained in custody ever since.
That same month volunteers launched a trust to help raise money for Sarah's family.
Detective Chief Inspector Ivan Beasley, of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: "Sarah had every reason to live – she had secured a new, better-paid job days before her disappearance, was looking forward to one of her children’s birthdays and was getting into position to buy the family home outright.
"While we are yet to locate Sarah’s body, it is clear to us that Sarah is no longer alive due to the inactivity of her bank and phone accounts, no contact with friends or family and the fact she left the home without any of her personal items or any plans in place. She didn’t even take her car.
"But when you look at Ben Lacomba, knowing what we know about Sarah and you begin to prove his account of what happened is untruthful, that he had reason to kill Sarah to avoid being left behind by her, it leaves us with little choice but to conclude he killed her. No other person came to that house that night, Sarah didn’t walk out of there by herself and Lacomba had clearly researched how to leave the area without being seen – or so he thought. I’m pleased the jury came to the same conclusion.
"Lacomba refuses to tell us where Sarah is which makes it difficult to find her and provide her family with some of the closure they so desperately need. Inquiries to find her will continue and so will the support we provide to Sarah’s family and close friends.
"I would like to pay tribute to Sarah’s family and friends who have been so brave in their help and support of our investigation. I also want to thank those in the community who have helped, especially those spending so much time and effort in the search for Sarah."
The search for Sarah is one of the largest in Kent Police history with 1,275 areas searched, totalling over 2,782 miles. At its height, the operation involved around 120 officers a day using police dogs, drones and the marine unit.
Meanwhile The Search for Sarah Wellgreen Group are calling on people to back their fundraising page established for the family of Sarah Wellgreen.
Click here to donate.
Lacomba will be sentenced on Friday, November 8.