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Sarah Wellgreen murder trial: 'I didn't kill Sarah', says accused Ben Lacomba

Throwing his phones in the River Thames while police were investigating the disappearance of his former partner Sarah Wellgreen was a “massive mistake”, murder accused Ben Lacomba has told a jury.

Lacomba, 39 - who is charged with murdering the 46-year-old mother-of-five from Bazes Shaw, New Ash Green, last October - said he might not be in court giving evidence today if he had decided to hand the phones into police.

Police divers were seen searching the Thames by North Star Boulevard off Station Road at the time of Sarah Wellgreen's disappearance
Police divers were seen searching the Thames by North Star Boulevard off Station Road at the time of Sarah Wellgreen's disappearance

Instead he told jurors and defence barrister Rebecca Trowler how he had panicked, and after handing his phone over to police for investigation, on October 14, immediately asked for it back.

“You asked for the phone?” said Ms Trowler.

“Yes, I panicked. There were things running through my mind. I was trying to think of everything on the phone.

“Firstly there were lots of messages that I had composed (in reply) to a lot of Sarah’s messages that she had sent me over the years, especially when we were going through the acrimonious court battles.

I would normally receive these messages at work - she would deliberately send them to me and would be provoking me to a response. They would be quite nasty messages.”

Police divers were seen searching the Thames by North Star Boulevard off Station Road at the time of Sarah Wellgreen's disappearance
Police divers were seen searching the Thames by North Star Boulevard off Station Road at the time of Sarah Wellgreen's disappearance

He said he would compose the messages in notepad form for “cathartic reasons” but not send them, but he added: “I was concerned the police would think bad about me.”

He said the frequent police visits to the home, and some of the things officers had said to him had led him to worry he could become a suspect. Furthermore there were other messages on the phone which related to allegations against his father which he didn’t want being dragged up.

Eventually after “chewing things over” he decided to throw them in the river at Greenhithe.

“I just started panicking,” he said.

“What about?” asked defence barrister Rebecca Trowler QC. “Everything,” replied Lacomba. “Something bad had happened to Sarah. Could the police be looking at me? I had tried to do everything possible to help the police - to be as open and honest as possible. I’d let them into my home, let them search wherever they want. I thought ‘was that putting myself at risk somehow?’

Ben Lacomba denies murder. Picture: Jim Bennett
Ben Lacomba denies murder. Picture: Jim Bennett

“I thought ‘do you know what - I’m just going to throw these in the river.’”

He said he remembers driving to Greenhithe that night, taking the SIM cards out of his two phones, snapping the handsets and throwing them in the river. “I threw both handsets in the river - in the River Thames,” said Lacomba.

And he added: “I think it was stupid. I made a mistake - a massive mistake. Now I’m not tired and panicking, I should have just given the police my phones - I might not even be sitting here today.”

He said he intended to tell police what he had done and that he had gone to McDonald's in Greenhithe on purpose to get seen on CCTV.

He said: “I went in there and bought a milkshake I made sure I was on all the cameras and then I went home.”

Sarah Jane Wellgreen has disappeared, picture Kent Police (18879109)
Sarah Jane Wellgreen has disappeared, picture Kent Police (18879109)

And he added: “I was going to tell them the reasons why I had thrown the phones in the river. I didn’t want them to think I was trying to hide something else.”

Two days later Lacomba had gone to the Dartford Family Court to try to obtain an interim order regarding the care of his children.

Having been told to come back after lunch he went to the Coffee Pot cafe next to the All Night Cars taxi office and called his boss so they could meet.

“He said the police had been in and out,” recalled Lacomba. “I said something like ‘what are they saying.’ He said ‘mate they think it’s you. They think you’ve killed her, buried her and dumped her somewhere.’

“I was just shocked.”

Police divers were seen searching the Thames by North Star Boulevard off Station Road at the time of Sarah Wellgreen's disappearance
Police divers were seen searching the Thames by North Star Boulevard off Station Road at the time of Sarah Wellgreen's disappearance

And Lacomba recalled how he was then arrested on his way back to the family court that afternoon.

“Two plain clothes police officers ran across the road,” he said. “They said ‘are you Ben Lacomba?’ I said ‘yes’. They said ‘you’re under arrest for the murder of Sarah Wellgreen'.

“I just went cold. I was just in shock.”

Ms Trowler asked him: “Did you say anything?”

And Lacomba replied: “I said nothing. They read me my rights and said anything you say may be used against you.’

“I thought I’ll be quiet.”

And he said it was on the advice of his solicitor that he remained quiet through the hours of questioning that followed.

“How did you feel?” asked Ms Trowler.

“I felt a level of frustration,” added Lacomba. “The sort of things the police were coming out with - the questions they were asking - were wildly incredible. I wanted to correct them and show what they were saying wasn’t true.”

Earlier today Lacomba explained he had got his taxi cleaned at a car wash in Burnham Road, Dartford, the day after Sarah was last seen.

The prosecution allege he was trying to hide mud that the car picked up in an unknown location the night Sarah disappeared, but Lacomba said it was normal for him to get the car washed every week before he paid the rent at the taxi office.

Read more from the trial:

It has also noted that he was not wearing his normal shoes that morning.

He said he hadn’t been able to find his shoes that morning but preferred to wear smart shoes to the taxi office so found a pair he’d bought previously in his bedroom.

He said he didn’t recognise a damp t-shirt found in his garage but said it was possibly a rag he used to clean the guttering and other jobs when he was released on bail after his first arrest.

He said he had sent Sarah a text message, rather than call her, the day after she was last seen because he presumed she was with a male friend Anthony Garnham, and that she wouldn’t answer.

He decided to send a text message instead and check later if it went to one of the phones Sarah had left in her bedroom.

The trial continues.

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