Sarah Wellgreen murder: Taxi driver jailed for minimum of 27 years
PUBLISHED: 15:17 08 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:17 08 November 2019
A taxi driver from New Ash Green who murdered his former partner Sarah Wellgreen and then hid her body has been jailed for life.
Ben Lacomba was told on Friday, November 8 he will serve at least 27 years before being considered for release.
Lacomba was convicted at Woolwich Crown Court on October 28, just over a year after the mother-of-five's disappearance.
A statement from Sarah's family released today said: "On the 10th October last year, our beautiful daughter Sarah Jane Wellgreen was murdered by her ex-partner Ben Lacomba, the father of her three youngest children. Her body has never been recovered despite extensive searches both by Kent Police and volunteers from the local community where she lived at New Ash Green.
"To date Ben Lacomba has refused to admit his guilt and to co-operate with the police the truth about what happened the night he took her life away.
"Because Ben Lacomba has refused to reveal the location of Sarah's body, we her family have been unable to mourn Sarah's passing or lay her to rest in a place of our choice.
"Sarah leaves behind her mother Anne, father Jim, her two eldest sons Lewis and Jack, her brother Marcus as well as a large family in Scotland. "Her three youngest children have been left without a mother or father and their young lives destroyed beyond comprehension.
"Today as far as the law is concerned, justice has been served for Sarah. Ben Lacomba has been sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 27 years. We hope he will never be released unless he admits his guilt and reveals the location of her grave. To date he has shown no remorse or care for either Sarah or his children.
"As a family, we miss Sarah every day. There is no bandage big enough to repair the wound that has been left by her premature death. We will not however allow Ben Lacomba to destroy our lives. Our priority will be to give Sarah's three youngest children every opportunity to be the best they can be and to have a full and happy life knowing their mother loved them.
"She will not be there to congratulate them on their achievements or to console them on their disappointments but we will be there every step of the way for them.
"We would like to express our heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all the members of Kent Police whose hard work and grit determination led toBen Lacomba being sentenced today. Special thanks go to DCI Ivan Beasley and DC Celia King our family liaison officer, who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Without their support and compassion, we could not have survived this nightmare. We are indebted to you.
"The family would also like to thank Alison Morgan QC and her team, for their professionalism and dedication in bringing Ben Lacomba to trial. "Also Kent Social Services for their ongoing support to Sarah's children and her family.
"Finally, we would like to say a massive thank you to the founder members of the Search for Sarah Wellgreen Facebook Team and all the volunteers who have and continue to search for Sarah in all weathers and conditions. We are eternally grateful to you all."
During the trial the court heard how a missing person investigation was launched on October 11, 2018 when Lacomba, 39, reported Sarah's disappearance two days after she was last seen. 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 46-year-old Sarah and the search was widened with almost 22,000 hours of CCTV footage being seized.
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On October 16 Lacomba was arrested on suspicion of Sarah's murder, questioned 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. Lacomba's CCTV system fed into a dedicated hard drive and power unit located next to his bed.
They also found Lacomba's red Vauxhall Zafira, a taxi with distinctive writing 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 overnight 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 October 10, he only decided to report her missing the following day when her family and friends sent texts and spoke to him about their concerns.
However, on October 14 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 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.
On 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 December 20, 2018.
Det Chief Insp Ivan Beasley from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: "This is a substantial sentence which reflects the calculated and evil actions of a man who thought he could get away with murder. However it did not take long for things to unravel for him as our suspicions grew that he had been responsible for Sarah's killing even though we had not found Sarah. After a year of incredibly complex investigations and producing a sound case - he is behind bars.
"Now that justice has been served we can continue our attention to finding Sarah's body. We have more searches planned and will continue to do everything in our power to find her so her family can finally lay her to rest.
"Sarah's friends and family have been so brave and supportive throughout our investigation and I hope the sentence will help them in some small way at least, to cope with what has happened."
The search for Sarah is one of the largest in Kent Police's 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 was 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.