Ben Lacomba told Woolwich Crown Court he bought the shovel as a Christmas gift for his mother in 2017
The taxi driver accused of murdering Sarah Wellgreen told a court a ‘gravedigger’s shovel’ found in his shed during police searches was a Christmas gift for his mother.
Measuring 5ft 5in in length, the gardening tool appeared new and the blade was lightly covered in soil.
A jury at Woolwich Crown Court in South East London has been told that the back garden at the New Ash Green home shared by the 46-year-old and her ex-partner Ben Lacomba consisted of artificial grass, paving stones and decking.
But the 39-year-old told the court he bought the shovel as a Christmas gift for his mother in 2017 as she planned to dig flower beds in his front lawn at Bazes Shaw.
Lacomba is alleged to have killed the mother of five on the night of October 9 last year and then headed out in his taxi in the early hours to dispose of her body.
Lacomba claims he was in bed asleep all night, waking at 7am on October 10 to find her gone.
But it was during the second day of cross-examination by the prosecution that his account of buying a shovel for his mother, Marilyn Lacomba, who is in her 60s and suffers from the pain condition fibromyalgia, was dismissed as ‘complete nonsense’.
Ben Lacomba (left, pictured in November 2018) is accused of murdering Ms Wellgreen (right)
Having been handed what Alison Morgan QC described as the ‘gravedigger’s shovel’ to hold as he gave evidence, she asked Lacomba: ‘Feel the weight. Are you seriously saying you thought that was appropriate for your elderly mother?
‘So she gets a gift of a shovel and the gift of hard labour in your garden…what did she do with it in your front garden?’
Lacomba replied: ‘I think she might have used it to do the digging where bricks were laid in the ground but I don’t think she used it that often.’
But Miss Morgan responded: ‘This is complete nonsense, isn’t it Mr Lacomba? Complete nonsense that the shovel was a gift for your elderly mother.
Detectives searched for thousands of man hours for Ms Wellgreen’s body after she went missing in New Ash Green, Kent, last October – but it has never been found
‘And the reason why you have made that up is because you don’t have a sensible explanation why you have a shovel of that size in your shed.’
Lacomba simply replied ‘No it’s not’.
He added he bought it in either a branch of B&Q or Wickes in Dartford ‘with his mother in mind’, thinking it would give her ‘better leverage’ when digging.
During cross-examination he was also repeatedly asked where he had buried Sarah, and to point her grave out on a map of potential search locations identified by police.
But he said: ‘What you have seen and heard doesn’t look good for me but I’m letting the jury know and everyone in this court that I have not murdered the mother of my children, Sarah Wellgreen.’
Lacomba was also asked by the prosecution if his mother, a schoolteacher, was involved ‘in a clear-up operation’ on the morning of October 10.
Mrs Lacomba was the first person he phoned after he claimed to have found his ex-partner missing from their home.
He told the jury he said to his mother that Sarah ‘was not at home’ and he did not know her whereabouts.
CCTV footage showed Mrs Lacomba then arriving at the four-bedroomed property at 7.38am on October 10 last year – 20 minutes after her son’s telephone call.
But having told the court he needed help with childcare, Mrs Lacomba was seen leaving the house just 11 minutes later before returning at 8.04am.
Having questioned why Lacomba had not first phoned Sarah to see where she might be, Miss Morgan asked: ‘Was there a clear-up operation going on at your home that day?’
When he explained he did not understand what she meant, Miss Morgan said: ‘What was your mother doing that morning?’
But having replied he asked his mother to come around to the house to help with the children, Miss Morgan questioned why Mrs Lacomba had then left just a few minutes after arriving.
‘She leaves for nearly 15 minutes. Did you ask her to do anything for you in those 15 minutes?’, she asked.
Police during the search for Ms Wellgreen in Kent last October. She has never been found and prosecutors say she was murdered
‘Not that I recall,’ replied Lacomba.
Miss Morgan continued: ‘You called your mum in desperation because you needed help with the children. Why on earth would she leave just 11 minutes later?’
Lacomba told the court he could not remember, but added his mum had ‘come round in quite a rush’ and may have forgotten her medication.
The court heard he and Sarah met online in 2004 and were together for 10 years.
After a lengthy and acrimonious split, Sarah moved to Portsmouth before returning to the family home in May last year to co-parent with Lacomba under the same roof.
But at the time she was allegedly murdered, she was in a new relationship, had landed a well-paid job and was in the process of buying Lacomba out of his share in the house.
The prosecution allege Lacomba murdered Sarah ‘in a calculated manner and to avoid detection’, possibly motivated by the potential loss of his home and having only limited access to his children.
Despite extensive searches there has been no trace and her body has never been found.
Her handbag, car, jewellery, purse, bank cards and two mobile phones were all left behind.
Her main phone, an iphone4, has never been recovered but Lacomba denied disposing of it.
He has admitted however that he threw his own two smartphones in the River Thames and Greenhithe, Kent, five days after Sarah disappeared.
He told the jury he did not want police to retrieve deleted data as it would ‘make him look bad’.
But he was caught on CCTV just before 11.20pm on October 14, walking from his car parked in Serenity Court and towards the water.
The court heard however there was no trace of him for an hour-and-a-half after he had driven off from his home at 9.36pm.
‘Did you go back to where you buried Sarah that night? Did you go back to make sure everything was cleared up properly?’ asked Miss Morgan.
‘I haven’t buried Sarah anywhere,’ Lacomba replied, who earlier in his evidence told the jury he had been ‘winding himself up and ‘chewing things over in his mind’ in that time gap.
‘I have said what I was doing in that hour-and-a-half.’