Ben Lacomba has been convicted of murdering his ex partner Sarah Wellgreen
The ‘bitter and controlling’ former partner of a mother-of-five has been found guilty of her murder despite her body having never been found.
Ben Lacomba, of New Ash Green in Kent, killed beautician Sarah Wellgreen in what prosecutors described as ‘deliberate, planned and careful’ murder after she gained independence from him.
Ms Wellgreen, 46, was in the process of buying Lacomba, 39, out of the four-bedroom property they shared after their relationship ended.
She had just got a new job selling hair products and Lacomba feared her new-found financial independence would give him limited contact with their children, the court has heard.
A jury at Woolwich Crown Court took just three-and-a-half hours of deliberation to return a unanimous guilty verdict today and Lacomba will be sentenced at a later date.
Police said Lacomba is the only person who knows where Ms Wellgreen’s body is and he is causing her children continued pain by failing to reveal where he hid her.
Lacomba showed no emotion as the verdict was given today. His mother Marilyn blew him a kiss from the public gallery.
Several members of Ms Wellgreen’s family were in court today and Judge Christopher Kinch QC was told other relatives wish to attend the sentencing hearing.
Ms Wellgreen has not been seen since she returned home from work on October 9 last year
In a 999 call after he killed Ms Wellgreen, Lacomba tried to throw police attention towards her new boyfriend, Neil James, the court heard
Ms Wellgreen was last seen alive as she returned home from work at 7.57pm on October 9 last year.
Extensive searches of more than 1,250 areas identified by police and the trawling of approximately 22,000 hours of CCTV seized from within a five-mile radius of her home have failed to reveal any trace of her or uncover her body.
Her Hyundai car, handbag, purse, phones, jewellery and passport were all left behind and she had no contact with any of her family or friends after her final series of phone messages with ‘on-off’ partner, recruitment boss Neil James, and two other friends at about 10pm on October 9.
Lacomba was convicted after the jury were told of a series of suspicious circumstances around his actions, including his switching off of their home’s CCTV, how a shovel was found in his shed and how he threw his phone in a river after acting suspiciously when asked for it by detectives.
Prosecutors told how he switched off his home’s ‘elaborate’ security camera system on the night of Ms Wellgreen’s disappearance and deliberately parked away from the house in a car park not covered by CCTV. Prosecutors said this was so he could ferry her body away undetected.
Cameras on numerous private houses and farm buildings captured a vehicle similar to his Vauxhall Zafira taxi driving along isolated country lanes between 2.13am and 4.27am on October 10 – with a two-hour gap in which the vehicle could not be traced. It is believed that this is when he disposed of her body.
Footage shows Sarah Wellgreen driving away from the car park outside her home in New Ash Green in Kent on the morning of October 9 last year. She returned that evening and has not been seen since
Neither Lacomba nor Ms Wellgreen were in their beds when another occupant of the house, who cannot be named for legal reasons, woke up in the middle of the night, the court heard, and Ms Wellgreen’s bed was strangely wet the following morning.
Police found a long-handled ‘gravedigger’s’ shovel in Lacomba’s shed, and he strangely claimed it was for his elderly mother.
He also became agitated when asked to hand over his phone and later threw it into the River Thames at Greenhithe, Kent.
Following today’s case, prosecutor Claire Prodger said: ‘It is very rare for us to authorise a murder charge within a few weeks of someone’s disappearance without their body being found.
‘We were able to do this, as the police presented us with compelling evidence by the police that Sarah had not left her home voluntarily and abandoned her children. We concluded therefore that she had therefore been unlawfully killed.’
Ms Wellgreen (pictured, left, and, right, with her boyfriend Neil James) was leading ‘a happy life with much to look forward to’ at the time of her murder, the jury was told
Ms Prodger added: ‘There was simply no coherent or plausible basis to suggest that anyone other than Ben Lacomba could have been responsible for her death.
‘He removed her body from their address that night and then disposed of it. To do so would have required specific local knowledge and crucially how to avoid detection by the neighbour’s CCTV cameras.
‘There was only one person who knew how to get in and out of their home undetected and that was Lacomba himself. Our thoughts are with Sarah’s family at this difficult time.’
How police and prosecutors built a case against Lacomba despite no body having ever been found
During a search of a shed at Lacomba’s home, police found a 5ft-long brand new shovel.
Prosecutors pointed out that the property had a small rear garden covered with artificial grass and paving stones, and said he had no use for such a tool.
He claimed he bought the shovel as a Christmas gift for his mother in 2017 as she planned to dig flower beds in his front lawn.
The prosecution said his account was ‘complete nonsense’ as his mother, Marilyn Lacomba, is in her 60s and suffers from the pain condition fibromyalgia.
This five-foot long shovel was found in Lacomba’s shed during police searches
Lacomba initially agreed to hand over his phone but was reluctant to do so and ‘frantically’ scrolled through it.
When asked to sign a consent form allowing the downloading of location data, he said there was no point as he had switched it off.
When police took it, it followed them insisting he needed it for work. At that point, his consent was necessary and police were forced to give it back to him. He later threw both of his two phones in the River Thames.
Lacomba said it was asleep at home the night Ms Wellgreen disappeared but CCTV images from homes and farms near their home appeared to show his Vauxhall Zafira taxi driving around that night.
Prosecutors said Lacomba left the house in his taxi and was seen driving along isolated country lanes before returning home more than two-and-a-half hours later.
Forensic imagery analysists were asked to consider CCTV images from the night of the alleged murder, photos of Lacomba’s taxi and footage of the reconstruction. Experts could say only that Lacomba’s taxi was ‘similar’ to that caught on camera.
CCTV images showed a car similar to Lacomba’s taxi on the night of the killing
THE 999 CALL
The call Lacomba made to report Ms Wellgreen missing appears to show him attempting to frame others and plant uncertainty about the case from an early stage.
He claimed she had been stalked and assaulted at work and that her on/off partner at the time, Neil James, was ‘paranoid’ and on one occasion had put a tracker on Sarah’s phone.
Lacomba also claimed one of Mr James’s former partners was also stalking Sarah, sending her photos of her car when she was staying at his house.
He told the 999 call operator: ‘She hasn’t gone missing before but her, erm, she’s got a bit of a weird life let’s put it that way.’
He claimed Sarah was ‘sort of like seeing a few blokes’ other than Mr James, adding ‘and so it looks like she’s cheating on him’
‘Even a year down the line now we still haven’t found Sarah’: Police slam killer for failing to ease victim’s family’s pain by revealing where he hid her body
Ben Lacomba, pictured shortly after Ms Wellgreen’s disappearance
Police have slammed killer Ben Lacomba for failing to tell Sarah Wellgreen’s family where he hid her body.
Mother-of-five Sarah Wellgreen has not been seen since October 2018, when she vanished overnight without a trace.
But despite her body never being found, taxi driver Lacomba, 39, was found guilty of killing her after a lengthy trial at Woolwich Crown Court.
Detective Chief Inspector Ivan Beasley said today: ‘We still haven’t found Sarah and that is a massive gap in their life.
‘The fact they’ve not been able to understand exactly what happened to Sarah, where she is, and be able to lay her to rest in their way is really, really causing a big impact on the family.
‘There is one person that knows where Sarah is and he won’t tell us.
‘He won’t tell us to enable us to find her for his children who desperately want to know what happened to their mum.’
Murder prosecutions in cases where the body of the victim has not been found are rare because of the unique challenge it poses to police and prosecutors, according to the senior officer in the Wellgreen investigation.
Police have searched 1,250 areas for clues as to where Ms Wellgreen’s body may be
Mr Beasley added: ‘The biggest challenge we faced in this investigation was the fact that even a year down the line now we still haven’t found Sarah.
‘In a traditional murder investigation you would have a victim and their body, a pathologist would be able to give in evidence that the person has died and also how that person has died.
‘Now we haven’t got that in this case so as much as I needed to show who was responsible, I also needed to show to the jury that Sarah is dead, and without having a body that was a huge challenge.’
In securing a conviction against Lacomba, police and prosecutors pointed not only to the fact that Ms Wellgreen was gone, but also what she left behind.
‘She was very happy, she had real prospects ahead of her.
‘She just secured a new job, she had custody of her children, [and] she had secured a mortgage to be able to move away with her children from Lacomba or at least buy the house and he would have to leave.
‘We also had what she left behind: her car, her car keys and house keys, purse, all her money and cards, all of her clothing.
‘In fact we could account for everything that we knew that she had apart from her one personal mobile phone. That was the only thing that was missing.’
But despite Lacomba being convicted of her killing and facing the reality of many years behind bars, Mr Beasley said the suffering is not over for Ms Wellgreen’s family.
Sarah Wellgreen’s disappearance and the murder investigation
Timeline of events leading up to and immediately after the disappearance of Sarah Wellgreen.
2004: Ben Lacomba and Sarah Wellgreen meet online. They enter into a long-distance relationship before she moves to live with him in Majorca, taking her two children from her previous relationship with her.
2006: Lacomba and Ms Wellgreen move back to the UK due to financial issues.
2014: The couple separate but remain living together in the family home.
July 12-13, 2018: Ms Wellgreen contacts a mortgage broker about buying Lacomba out of their house.
August 7: Ms Wellgreen contacts the mortgage broker again confirming that she wishes for them to act for her.
August 15: The mortgage broker sends Ms Wellgreen a mortgage quotation. She confirms that she wishes to proceed.
September 13: Ms Wellgreen is informed that the mortgage has been approved.
September 21: Ms Wellgreen applies for a job as a business development manager.
October 8: Ms Wellgreen is offered the job, which comes with a pay rise and company car. She accepts the next day.
October 9: 9.30am: Lacomba’s first taxi job of the day
4.50pm: Lacomba drops off his last customer of the day in Sevenoaks and then books off work.
October 10: 8.30am: Lacomba arrives at his children’s school and speaks to staff about a school trip his children are booked on.
10.34am: Lacomba’s first taxi job of the day.
1.34pm: Lacomba drops off his last customer of the day and books off work.
October 11: 9.55am: Lacomba telephones the police to report Ms Wellgreen missing. Police later search the family home.
October 12: Police search family home again.
October 14: Police visit the home a further time.
October 16: Police seize Lacomba’s Vauxhall car.
12.20pm: Lacomba attends Dartford County Court seeking a residence order for his children, saying that Ms Wellgreen was officially missing.
1.55pm: Lacomba is arrested for the first time in Dartford.
October 19: 11.50am: Lacomba is released on police bail.
Police search the family home a further time. Two shovels are seized from the shed. They also seize a silver metal box containing various personal documents, including Sarah Wellgreen’s passport, her birth certificate, marriage certificate and a Spanish identity card.
November 2: Police conduct a further search of the family home.
December 20: 6.45am: Lacomba is arrested for a second time.
7.40pm: Lacomba is charged with the murder of Sarah Wellgreen.
December 21: Police conduct another search of the family home and seize a further shovel from the shed.
October 28, 2019: Lacomba is convicted of murder at Woolwich Crown Court.