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Sarah Wellgreen murder trial: Missing mum's ex Ben Lacomba's car disappeared for two hours, jury told

Missing mum-of-five Sarah Wellgreen's ex turned off CCTV at their home on the night she went missing and his car 'disappeared' for two hours, a court has heard.

Sarah, of Bazes Shaw, New Ash Green, has not been seen October 9 last year.

Details of Sarah Wellgreen's murder were heard in court

Cab driver Ben Lacomba, the father of three of her children, is accused of murdering her.

A jury at Woolwich Crown Court today heard of some of the last messages sent by Sarah, who was 46 when she vanished.

A text sent to a friend at 10pm on the night she went missing read: “There is always something to look forward to, you just need to open your eyes a bit more and dream."

That text and other messages from that night were among evidence put forward by prosecutors who claim she was looking forward to the future.

Sarah Wellgreen has not been seen since October 9, 2018
Sarah Wellgreen has not been seen since October 9, 2018

Today - on the first day of Lacomba’s trial - the jury heard how the pair were living together in October last year, but had been separated for some years.

Beautician Sarah, who was 46 when she went missing, was looking to buy Lacomba out of the property, had principle custody of their three children and had recently secured a new job.

In an opening statement prosecutor Alison Morgan QC put forward evidence to refute Lacomba’s claim that he was in bed all night on the night Sarah disappeared, between October 9 and 10 2018 and instead explained CCTV suggested he left the house in the early hours and drove south to an unknown location to, the prosecution claim, dispose of her body.

She began: “In the early hours of the morning of October 10, Sarah Jane Wellgreen disappeared from her home address in New Ash Green.

"She was the mother of five children. She had just secured a new job and was leading a happy life with much to look forward to.

"That night, she was not abducted and murdered by a stranger. She did not leave her home voluntarily, never to return.

Kent Police Search & Marine Unit search the River Darenth after Sarah Wellgreen went missing
Kent Police Search & Marine Unit search the River Darenth after Sarah Wellgreen went missing

"She was murdered by this defendant, her former partner. He then disposed of her body.

"To date, despite extensive searches by the police, her body has not been found.

"Only this defendant knows where it is and exactly what he did to Sarah night.

“The precise details of what happens to Sarah are not known to anyone other than him.

"The evidence that has been gathered reveals a compelling picture from which you can be sure that Sarah was killed by him and he then disposed of her body and it is for that reason that he is charged with her murder.”

The prosecution highlighted evidence surrounding CCTV at the home Lacomba and Sarah shared, and at nearby properties.

While CCTV at their home was not working properly they believe Lacomba was not aware of this.

The controls were located in his bedroom and on the night Sarah disappeared the cameras were turned off at 12 minutes past midnight.

Earlier that afternoon, say the prosecution, Lacomba parked his car away from his usual spot, outside of the view of CCTV cameras of neighbouring properties - cameras which he had asked to view earlier in the year.

Ben Lacomba has been charged with the murder of Sarah Wellgreen
Ben Lacomba has been charged with the murder of Sarah Wellgreen

The prosecution say there is no CCTV evidence showing Sarah leaving the home, but that CCTV on other properties pick up Lacomba’s car - a distinctive red taxi with All Night Taxis written on the side.

They suggest his car can be traced moving south from New Ash Green between 2.13am and 2.20am until it disappears into country lanes, and is then seen on the same cameras returning almost two hours later.

Evidence from another occupant at the house suggested Lacomba, who denies murder, had been missing and had returned home.

Ms Morgan added: "The defendant murdered Sarah in a calculated manner, designed to avoid detection, to leave no trace and to remove the mother of his three children from his life forever.

"Despite his best efforts, he did leave a trace. In fact, he left far more than a trace of evidence.

"The prosecution argues what was left behind provides a compelling picture from which you can be sure that he, and he alone, is responsible for Sarah Wellgreen's murder and disappearance."

She said: "While it may never be possible to know what ran through the defendant's mind when he decided to kill Sarah, it appears that potential loss of property and his children motivated his actions."

Further crucial CCTV evidence looked at the condition of Lacomba's car before and after Sarah disappeared.

Footage captured the day before showed the taxi to be in a clean condition, said Ms Morgan QC, but she added: "by the next morning it's seen to be dirty.

"The car was clean before it got back to Bazes Shaw on the 9th; the car is dirty the next morning. "You may want to question where was it that car had gone overnight to get mud on it in that way."

Police carried out repeat searches to find Sarah Wellgreen after she disappeared.
Police carried out repeat searches to find Sarah Wellgreen after she disappeared.

The prosecutor also noted a long-handed shovel with a pointed blade, which had later been found at the defendant's address, which she noted had a small garden with artificial grass.

Producing it to the court, she added: "That's the size of that shovel, members of the jury. You will want to consider what use that shovel would be in that garden."

The court heard that the morning after Sarah had disappeared, Lacomba did not report her missing and later went to pay his weekly rent at taxi office in Hythe Street, Dartford - by which time the taxi was seen to be clean.

At the taxi office it was said a colleague noted Lacomba was wearing new and distinctive shoes, which the colleague described as "horrible pointy shoes, they looked diabolical as they did not match his other clothes," and said the defendant said he'd lost his normal brown pair.

It wasn't until Thursday October 11, as the wider family became increasingly concerned about Sarah, that Lacomba called the police and reported her missing, say the prosecution.

The phone call itself was played to the court, and Lacomba could be heard telling the police: "She's never gone missing before but she has got a bit of a weird life, let's put it that way."

When the call was transferred as a high priority call, Lacomba said he didn't know where Sarah had gone but added: "I found out about her seeing quite a few blokes, sort of thing. I can only guess."

He then goes on to name some of Sarah's acquaintances, which the prosecution suggested was an attempt to throw the police off his trail.

They state that when police went to take a formal statement from Lacomba on October 11, he appeared to be in possession of her iPhone and was trying to show them messages, but that when officers visited the address on the October 12, Lacomba said the phone was not in the house.

When they returned on October 14 Lacomba initially agreed to hand over his phone but asked questions about the process.

When he was asked to authorise the download of deleted data, he replied: "Why would I want you to have deleted stuff when I have deleted it for a reason?"

Forty minutes later, after police left, Lacomba left Bazes Shaw in his car.

CCTV captured his vehicle parking in Greenhithe, next to the Thames, at 11.20pm. He arrived back to Bazes Shaw at 00.06am.

The following day, Lacomba asked for £300 to get a new phone and he bought a replica Samsung Galaxy S8 phone from a Cash Converters.

The original phone was never recovered by police.

Police used an enforcer battering ram to enter Sarah Wellgreen's home in Bazes Shaw, New Ash Green(18229091)
Police used an enforcer battering ram to enter Sarah Wellgreen's home in Bazes Shaw, New Ash Green(18229091)

A statement from his mother Maryln Lacomba recounted how her son had been agitated about things on his phone relating to a custody battle which he "didn't want dragged up again," and that he had then gone out.

"When he came back he said he was sorry, he knows it doesn't look good but he can't have it all dragged up from before so he'd chucked it in the river."

On October 15 Lacomba had bought a new phone and on October 16 he is then said to have gone to Dartford County Court to make an application in relation to the custody of his children.

Ms Morgan QC added: "Is this the behaviour - disposing of something in the dark and wet, changing mobile phones, attending Dartford County Court to sort out custody papers - consistent with someone living with the concern and uncertainty as to the whereabouts of the mother of his children?

"Or are these actions consistent with someone covering his tracks and trying to take advantage to alter the position relating to the custody of his children?"

After attending the county court, Lacomba was arrested on suspicion of murder, but replied to no police questions - and the prosecution state it's significant that he asked no questions himself about the investigation concerning his former partner.

Sarah Wellgreen went missing in October last year

Ms Morgan concluded by stating Lacomba had lied about his movements the night Sarah disappeared and pondered, if perhaps the ex partners had an argument which had got out of hand on the night Sarah disappeared, why Lacomba hadn't called the police that night.

"He didn't because this was a premeditated and calculated act carried out by someone trying to avoid detection," she said.

"And that level of calculation tells you without any doubt that this was a murder."

Lacomba, wearing a navy suit and tie and sporting a beard and glasses, remained silent throughout.

The trial continues.

  • Tomorrow the jury are due to visit New Ash Green to observe locations mentioned in evidence, including Bazes Shaw, and the route the prosecution say Lacomba drove on the night Sarah disappeared.

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