The ex-partner of New Ash Green mother-of-five Sarah Wellgreen has been found guilty of her murder. On Monday, 28 October a jury at Woolwich Crown Court found private hire driver Ben Lacomba guilty of killing her in October 2018.
Despite extensive searches, Sarah’s body has never been found.
Following a four-week trial, the court heard how the 46-year-old beautician was last seen parking her car outside her home around 8pm on 9 October 2018.
She then spent the evening speaking to friends on her phone but it was the last anyone heard from her.
A missing person investigation was launched on 11 October when Lacomba, 39, reported her disappearance two days later.
Searches in and around the home they shared in Bazes Shaw, New Ash Green, took place in the days that followed.
As the enquiry continued, detectives became suspicious that something sinister had happened to Sarah and the search was widened with almost 22,000 hours of CCTV footage being seized.
On 16 October Lacomba was arrested on suspicion of Sarah’s murder and later released on bail.
In the months that followed, extensive investigations by the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate unravelled discrepancies in the accounts given by Lacomba about Sarah’s disappearance and his own behaviour.
After reviewing a neighbour’s CCTV footage, detectives found that Sarah and Lacomba’s own home CCTV system had been turned off the night Sarah vanished.
The system fed into a dedicated hard drive and power unit located next to Lacomba’s bed. They also found Lacomba’s red Vauxhall Zafira, with the distinctive writing, Private Hire, and the name of the local firm, on the side, was not parked in its usual place outside the family home the night Sarah went missing.
Instead it had been parked away from CCTV cameras belonging to neighbours and was found to leave Bazes Shaw in the middle of the night. Various CCTV cameras in New Ash Green and the wider area showed it headed south towards Stansted before disappearing for two hours.
Comparisons of the vehicle in the days before and after Sarah disappeared showed the car had been clean when he returned from work on 9 October, became dirty during the midnight journey south and it was then cleaned again after Lacomba went out in it the following morning.
Phone records also revealed that despite his initial claim to officers that he woke up to find Sarah missing on the morning of 10 October, he only decided to report her missing the following day when her family and friends sent texts to him about their concerns.
However, on 14 October when family liaison officers asked Lacomba for his phone to help them with the missing person investigation, he refused after being told what information could be retrieved.
He told the officers to leave because he felt tired but after officers left, he drove his red Vauxhall north to Evelyn Walk, Greenhithe and threw his phone into the River Thames. When he returned home, he asked a relative for a loan saying he had got rid of his mobile phone.
The following day on 15 October he visited a shop in Dartford High Street and bought an identical Samsung model to the phone he refused to give officers – the same one he told a relative he had got rid of.
Lacomba on CCTV
On 16 October, Lacomba requested an urgent hearing at Dartford Family Court where he sought custody of the three children he and Sarah shared. He was arrested by detectives shortly afterwards.
Refused to answer questions
In interview, he refused to answer any questions put to him to either explain Sarah’s disappearance or help find her. He was bailed but later re-arrested and charged with murder on 20 December 2018.
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 shown any plans to leave.
"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. Enquiries 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
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.
Kent Police were supported by other agencies including Kent Search and Rescue and Kent Fire and Rescue Service while members of the local community came out in force in the hope of locating Sarah. Lacomba will be sentenced on Friday, 8 November 2019.
Images: Source; Kent Police