Man accused of Sarah Wellgreen murder ‘asked for phone back from police’

8 October 2019, 14:46

Sarah Wellgreen's body has never been found
Sarah Wellgreen's body has never been found. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

A man accused of murdering his missing ex-partner asked for his phone back from police just moments after "reluctantly" handing it over, a court has heard.

Mother-of-five Sarah Wellgreen, 46, has not been seen since disappearing from the home she shared with taxi driver Ben Lacomba, 39, in New Ash Green, Kent, in October last year.

Lacomba denies murdering Ms Wellgreen on October 9 2018. Despite extensive police searches, her body has never been found.

Detective Constable Celia King told Woolwich Crown Court on Tuesday that she visited the defendant's home on October 14 last year to seize his phone, to "see if he had anything on it to help us find Sarah".

Family liaison officer Ms King described Lacomba as "obstructive and reluctant" about letting officers enter the property in Bazes Shaw, and, asked by junior prosecutor Alistair Richardson how he responded to requests for his phone, Ms King said: "Reluctantly, but he did agree.

"He said it had some embarrassing stuff on it. I said I wasn't interested in his embarrassing photos or whatever he had on it."

Ms King said Lacomba sat "scrolling" through his phone, adding: "He was sat opposite me so I could just see the back of his hand, but I would say he was frantically going through his phone."

She told jurors that the 39-year-old agreed for officers to access his call log, contact list, texts and WhatsApp messages on his Samsung Galaxy S8 mobile phone, but he refused to grant access to his location services, with Ms King telling the court: "He said there was no point as he had turned off location services."

Lacomba also did not consent for police to look at his deleted data, and "completely changed" when he was asked, she added.

"He completely changed. He got quite animated. He said 'Why would I want you to have deleted stuff when I deleted it for a reason?'" she said.

When Lacomba agreed to give his phone to Ms King, she said the taxi driver told her he had another phone with a "taxi app" which he used for work.

Shortly after leaving the property with his phone and walking to the car park, Ms King was alerted by the officer she was with that Lacomba "was behind her".

"He said he changed his mind and wanted his phone back. He said he needed it for work," Ms King told the court.

"I explained to him that we downloaded back at the station and I could have it back to him that night. I said it was very important and may help to establish where Sarah was."

But Ms King said he wanted his phone back, telling her: "You said it was voluntary and I don't have to give it to you so I want it back."

Asked if she complied with Lacomba's requests by Mr Richardson, Ms King said: "I had to give it back to him."

Ms King said Lacomba agreed to take his mobile phone to the police station "first thing in the morning before work", but the family liaison officer said he failed to do so despite efforts to contact him.

Lacomba responded to Ms King on October 16, she said, saying he was "sorry for not getting back" and agreed to give her his device.

During cross-examination, Ms King - who had earlier used the word "obstructive" to describe Lacomba when officers visited her home - said she had not used the term in her original statement.

When asked about Lacomba's attitude concerning police officers repeatedly visiting his home, Ms King said: "I sympathised with him."

Lacomba says he was asleep in bed on the night of the alleged killing, and a statement by the defendant that was read to the court said Ms Wellgreen "was happy and there was nothing out of the ordinary" on the day she went missing.

Jurors previously heard the couple had split up but remained living under the same roof.

The trial continues.

Reporting by PA

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