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Taxi driver, 39, accused of murdering Sarah Wellgreen ‘reluctantly handed mobile to detective’

The Gazette Staff
Sarah Wellgreen, 46, disappeared in October

Sarah Wellgreen, 46, disappeared in October

Sarah Wellgreen, 46, disappeared in October

The taxi driver accused of murdering his partner, mother-of-five Sarah Wellgreen, demanded police hand back his mobile phone before they could download its data, a court heard today.

Ben Lacomba was said to be ‘very obstructive’ to police when they arrived at his house as part of the investigation into the 46-year-old’s disappearance and became agitated, having also refused to give them permission to retrieve any deleted information.

He followed them to their car at the end of a visit on Sunday, October 14 – three days after he had reported the beautician as missing – and asked for his phone back, telling them he needed it for work.

But having promised to hand it at Maidstone police station in Kent the following day it is alleged Lacomba drove to the River Thames at Greenhithe and ‘chucked it’ in the water later that night.

Lacomba, 39, is accused of murdering Sarah on the night of October 9 last year ‘in a calculated manner’ before disposing of her body in the early hours of October 10.

But he claims he was at home asleep in bed all night, only discovering Sarah had vanished when he woke at 7am the next morning.

Ben Lacomba is accused of murdering his ex Sarah Wellgreen (pictured) after she got a new job

Ben Lacomba is accused of murdering his ex Sarah Wellgreen (pictured) after she got a new job

Ben Lacomba (pictured) is accused of murdering his ex Sarah Wellgreen after she got a new job

Ben Lacomba (pictured) is accused of murdering his ex Sarah Wellgreen after she got a new job

Ben Lacomba (right) is accused of murdering his ex Sarah Wellgreen (left) in October last year

Detectives searched for thousands of man-hours for Ms Wellgreen's body but it has never been found

Detectives searched for thousands of man-hours for Ms Wellgreen's body but it has never been found

Detectives searched for thousands of man-hours for Ms Wellgreen’s body but it has never been found

However, he did not report her disappearance to police for more than 24 hours, London’s Woolwich Crown Court heard.

Lacomba was then said to be ‘very obstructive and reticent’ when family liaison officer Detective Constable Celia King went to his four-bedroom property in New Ash Green, Kent, that Sunday afternoon.

‘He asked what we were doing there and stated he didn’t want any more police around his house and could we come back next week?’, the officer told the jury.

‘I explained to Mr Lacomba I was there to find out any information as to why Sarah would be missing.

‘He again said he didn’t want any more police around and could we come back next week.’

DC King said it was only after 10 minutes standing on the doorstep that she and her colleague were finally allowed in.

Once in Sarah’s bedroom they noticed the bed was unmade and a duvet belonging to Sarah was ‘half-folded and stuffed’ in a wardrobe drawer.

Four photoframes which had contained pictures of her children were empty.

Her handbag, purses and clothes were all left behind.

The court heard Lacomba claimed Ms Wellgreen's new boyfriend Neil James (pictured) was 'paranoid' when he first reported her missing

The court heard Lacomba claimed Ms Wellgreen's new boyfriend Neil James (pictured) was 'paranoid' when he first reported her missing

The court heard Lacomba claimed Ms Wellgreen’s new boyfriend Neil James (pictured) was ‘paranoid’ when he first reported her missing

At one stage during the police visit his mother Marilyn arrived, letting herself in, and Lacomba appeared ‘nervous’ and jumped up at the sound of the key in the door.

The court heard how Lacomba initially agreed to hand over his phone but was reluctant to do so and ‘frantically’ scrolled through it.

DC King said she had to repeatedly tell him to put it in an evidence bag.

‘I explained I wanted to seize his phone for it to be downloaded to see if it had anything on it that would help us find Sarah,’ she told the court.

‘Reluctantly he did agree. He said it had some embarrassing stuff on it. I did reassure him I wasn’t interested in his embarrassing photos or whatever he had.

‘While we were talking to him he was scrolling through his phone. He was sat opposite me and I could just see the back of his hand but he was, what I would say, frantically going through his phone.’

The officer said Lacomba agreed to sign a consent form allowing the downloading of call logs, contacts, chats, messaging, WhatsApp and texts.

Prosecutors say movements of a taxi they believe is Lacomba's after Ms Wellgreen went missing show he was her killer, despite her not having been found. Pictured: Lacomba's car

Prosecutors say movements of a taxi they believe is Lacomba's after Ms Wellgreen went missing show he was her killer, despite her not having been found. Pictured: Lacomba's car

Prosecutors say movements of a taxi they believe is Lacomba’s after Ms Wellgreen went missing show he was her killer, despite her not having been found. Pictured: Lacomba’s car

But when asked about other options such as location data, he replied ‘there was no point’ as he had switched it off.

His attitude was said to have ‘completely changed’ when he was asked to permit the recovery of any deleted data.

‘He got quite animated. He said ‘Why would I want you to have deleted stuff when I have deleted it for a reason?” DC King told the court.

She added Lacomba then ‘scrutinised’ the consent form before eventually handing the phone over. He never agreed however to them retrieving any deleted data.

‘He was reluctant. I kept having to tell him to switch it off and put it in the evidence bag.’

Lacomba was told the Samsung S8 would be returned to him the next morning.

But as the officers left at 8.50pm, he followed them and demanded it back.

‘He said that he had changed his mind and wanted his phone back. He said he needed it for work. I explained we could download it back at the station there and then and get it back to him that night,’ said DC King.

The footage filmed at several houses and farm buildings near the beautician's home in Kent

The footage filmed at several houses and farm buildings near the beautician's home in Kent

The footage filmed at several houses and farm buildings near the beautician’s home in Kent

‘After a while, because we did stand there for a while to convince him, he got quite animated again and said ‘You said it was voluntary and I didn’t have to give it to you so I want it back.’ I had to give it back to him.’

The court heard earlier in the trial that he told his mum the following day that he had subsequently ‘chucked it in the river’.

Sarah’s sons Lewis, 23, and 22-year-old Jack Burdett, and her mum Ann Reid were at court for the first time since the trial started last week.

They sat in the public gallery on what was the eve of the first anniversary of Sarah vanishing.

In a statement Lewis gave to police after Sarah vanished he said: ‘I know my mother. She would not just leave her children…..She would not do that.

‘She loved the children. She has never gone off before. She always keeps in touch.’

The prosecution say ‘compelling evidence’ points to Lacomba being guilty, including CCTV footage of a vehicle ‘similar’ to his Vauxhall Zafira taxi driving along isolated country lanes near his home in Bazes Shaw between 2.20am and 4.27am on October 10.

At the start of Lacomba’s trial, the court heard she was ‘in good spirits’ at the time she vanished.

Police during the search for Ms Wellgreen. She has never been found and prosecutors say she was murdered

Police during the search for Ms Wellgreen. She has never been found and prosecutors say she was murdered

Police during the search for Ms Wellgreen. She has never been found and prosecutors say she was murdered

She had landed a new job with a good salary and was in the process of buying Lacomba out of his share in the family home.

Despite being under the same roof, the couple led ‘completely separate lives’, with Sarah in a new relationship and also seeing other male friends.

In one of her final texts, sent to her on/off boyfriend Neil James on the night she was allegedly murdered, Sarah referred to Lacomba as ‘a fat t**t’ and there was ‘tension and problems’ between them, said prosecutor Alison Morgan QC.

It is alleged his possible motive for murdering Sarah before disposing of her body was the potential loss of his property and resulting limited contact with his children.

Extensive searches of the area and trawling approximately 22,000 hours within a five-mile radius of her home have not uncovered any trace and her body has ever been found.

Her Hyundai car, handbag, purse and mobile phones were left behind, and she had no contact with any of her family or friends after 10pm on October 9.

She was last seen alive on neighbour’s CCTV as she returned home from work that evening at 7.57pm.

Miss Morgan said: ‘The prosecution alleges that the defendant murdered Sarah in a calculated manner, designed to avoid detection, to leave no trace and to remove Sarah Wellgreen.

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

‘The prosecution alleges that what he left behind provides a compelling picture from which you can be sure that he alone is responsible for Sarah Wellgreen’s murder and disappearance.’

As well as his taxi allegedly being caught on camera in the early hours of October 10, it was said Lacomba had switched off his home’s ‘elaborate’ security camera system that night and parked away from his usual spot adjacent to his house in a spot not covered by a CCTV.

It was also more than 24 hours before he reported Sarah’s disappearance to police, and only after her family raised concerns about her well-being and whereabouts.

Texts to her phone went unanswered and calls went to voicemail, with no activity on her Facebook account, the court heard.

More than 19 hours after her last communication, an anxious Mr James messaged Sarah to ask ‘Are you alive?’

Yesterday the jury at Woolwich Crown Court heard the initial 999 call and then subsequent ‘high priority’ call in which Lacomba claimed his ex had a ‘complicated and messy’ lifestyle.

He said she had up to seven phones, and claimed she had been stalked and assaulted at work.

He described how they shared the house for the sake of their children but that Sarah was ‘sort of like seeing a few blokes’ other than Mr James, adding ‘and so it looks like she’s cheating on him’.

Lacomba described how Sarah split her time between living in the family home, at Mr James’s home in Farnham, Surrey, and in Portsmouth where she worked for Puresun beauty salon. ‘

The trial continues. 

Source : Mail Online

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