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Constance Marten and boyfriend 'carried baby around in Lidl bag in runaway bid that killed her'

 Constance Marten  and Mark Gordon are on trial at the Old Bailey (Handout)
Constance Marten and Mark Gordon are on trial at the Old Bailey (Handout)

An aristocrat and her boyfriend killed their newborn baby girl after taking the "selfish" and "arrogant" decision to go on the run from authorities in the middle of a freezing winter, the Old Bailey has heard.

Constance Marten, 36, and Mark Gordon, 48, sparked a national manhunt when they went missing last December, in an alleged bid to avoid their baby being taken into care.

It is said they caused the death of their daughter – referred to as Baby A - while hiding from authorities and camping in the winter cold, without sufficient clothing, warmth, and "scarcely any food".

The baby was carried around in a Lidl 'bag for life' in the last days that she was alive, it is alleged.

Tom Little KC, prosecuting, said the case made national news headlines during the manhunt between December 2022 and February 2023.

The couple dumped the baby’s body in a shopping bag, abandoned in a disused shed under a pile of rubbish, Mr Little said.

He told jurors the trial revolves around the "entirely avoidable death of a young baby - a young baby girl who would still be alive if it was not for the reckless, utterly selfish, callous, cruel, arrogant and ultimately grossly negligent conduct of these two defendants, who were the parents of that young baby girl.

"They put their relationship and their view of life before the life of a little baby girl," he said.

The baby’s body was found in the Hollingbury area of Brighton at the end of a lengthy manhunt for the missing couple. “Rather than act in the obvious best interests of a vulnerable baby and one that they should have cared for and looked after, they decided instead that they knew best”, said the prosecutor.

A court artist sketch of Constance Marten (left) and Mark Gordon (right), seated with a dock officer, in the dock at the Old Bailey at an earlier hearing (Elizabeth Cook/PA) (PA Archive)
A court artist sketch of Constance Marten (left) and Mark Gordon (right), seated with a dock officer, in the dock at the Old Bailey at an earlier hearing (Elizabeth Cook/PA) (PA Archive)

"They decided that they knew better than anyone else.

"No matter who they were. They decided to ignore the advice that they had previously been given. They decided that in the middle of a cold winter and in cruel and obviously dangerous weather conditions that they would deprive the baby of what it needed – warmth, shelter and food and ultimately safety.

“They essentially went off-grid and lived in a tent with hardly any clothes, no means of keeping and remaining warm and dry and with scarcely any food.”

The court heard Marten, part of a wealthy aristocratic family from Dorset with members who have served the Royal Family, and Gordon have been in a relationship since around 2016, and when they went missing they had no fixed home.

Mr Little said Marten and Gordon had already had four children taken off them by authorities, and when she fell pregnant in early 2022 with their fifth child they "knew the child would be taken into care".

So they concealed the existence of the pregnancy from their family, friends, and authorities such as midwives and healthcare professionals, it is said.

"Their selfish desire to keep their baby girl led inexorably to the death of that very baby," said Mr Little.

"They went and remained on the run. Giving birth to the baby on the run. Not seeking any medical assistance before, during or after birth. Not registering the birth but moving from location to location.

"When the hunt by the authorities to find them, which became national front page news almost exactly a year ago, intensified, so their desperate selfishness increased and so did the risks and the dangers to the baby.

"They started camping in freezing and obviously dangerous conditions on the South Downs with insufficient clothing, equipment and food and never once seeking any medical attention or assistance.

"It was this grossly negligent and obviously dangerous conduct that caused the death of their baby daughter and which leads to them appearing before you, on trial at the Old Bailey.

"That baby never stood a chance.

"After the baby had died the defendants did not hand themselves in but instead remained off-grid and trying to hide, leaving the body of their dead baby in a shopping bag covered in rubbish, as if she was refuse, and left in a disused unlocked shed."

Jurors heard the exact date of the baby’s birth unclear and is "known only to the defendants in the dock".

Manhunt

The court heard Marten and Gordon's alleged movements have been pieced together by police, in a journey which took in London, Essex, South Yorkshire, Bolton, and the South Coast.

Gordon reported to a police station in Sheffield on December 19, 2022, and the following day they booked into a holiday cottage in Northumberland.

Mr Little said the cottage was left "in a hurry" and in a "disgusting state" with food debris, rubbish and urine stains, although they had washed the bedsheets.

Gordon checked in at a police station in Leeds on Boxing Day, and on December 28, 2022, the couple's car broke down on the M18 in Doncaster.

A recovery company employee said he saw evidence of the couple "living in the vehicle", the court heard, but he saw no evidence of a baby.

"You will need to consider critically in that context any suggestion that the babyhad been born at this time. If so, where was it that evening?", asked Mr Little. The vehicle was towed to an address in Leeds, and the couple's movements are then unknown until January 4 last year, when they checked into an IBIS hotel in Lymm, Cheshire, and then on to a Manchester hotel later the same day.

On January 5, the couple were using a Peugeot 206 which broke down and caught fire on the M61 in Greater Manchester.

Mr Little said the couple "fled" but left behind a large number of burner mobile phones, Marten's passport in the burnt-out car, and dumped bags of clothing and nappies for a new-born baby in a nearby field.

"Wrapped in a towel in that burnt out car was a placenta", said Mr Little.

"Friends and family of the defendants and healthcare workers had not been told of the pregnancy. It was the defendants’ secret.

"The finding of the placenta revealed the existence of a newborn baby and this is the newborn baby girl that lies at the heart of this case."

It is said the couple travelled on foot through fields, before hitching a lift to Morrisons in Bolton from a passing motorist.CCTV allegedly shows Marten in the supermarket with the baby under her coat.

The couple then travelled to Liverpool, being dropped off by taxi near to Liverpool Town Hall, and then travelled hundreds of miles to Harwich in Essex.

Marten gave a false name when checking into a hotel, it is said, and Mr Little said the couple are accused of planning to, or attempting to, leave the country with their baby.

On January 7, they were spotted near to the port in Harwich, it is said, and one person asked if they were the missing couple on the news "which they denied", said Mr Little.

Marten and Gordon then went to Colchester.

 (PA)
(PA)

"It is clear that they do not want to stay in any one location for any extended period of time presumably in case they are recognised", said the prosecutor.

Jurors heard CCTV recovered by police indicates the baby is alive and moving in early January.

The couple were in a German donor kebab shop in East Ham on January 7, when Gordon buys a buggy and a baby's dummy from Boots.

It is said they took a taxi to Whitechapel, where a "thin, flimsy" tent, pillows, and sleeping bags were bought from Argos.

The couple ate at a Brick Lane restaurant that night, when restaurant staff noticed the baby, and they allegedly dumped the buggy bought just hours earlier.

"It would appear that, at this time, the child was transferred to, and carried in, a red re-enforced Lidl 'bag for life' where it would appear it spent much of its life before it died", said Mr Little.

"It would have been plain to the defendants, you must have thought, that this was an utterly inappropriateway to care for any child, and remember at all times in this case the time of year and the weather conditions."

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(PA)

Camping in freezing temperatures

Mr Little told jurors they will hear detailed evidence of the weather conditions on the South Downs last winter, when Marten and Gordon allegedly spent a month "living rough" with their baby.

"There were many days when it was freezing, cold, windy and wet", he said.

"A new-born baby is at an extremely high risk of dying when exposed to cold weather conditions in a tent during winter."

The couple's tent was seen near the Seven Sisters cliffs in East Sussex in mid-January, and a month later they were spotted by a dog walker near Hollingbury Golf Course.

One witness who allegedly saw the tent in Brighton commented at the time: "They must be bloody freezing or mad".

And on February 19, Marten was allegedly seen holding a baby with a "wobbly head", no hat, no blanket, and no socks on.

A witness who saw the tent in a park in the park commented: "You have to be brave sleeping in a tent overnight in this weather”, the court heard.

"That you may think was the understatement of the century", said Mr Little.

"It was not brave, it was utterly stupid, reckless and obviously dangerous." Capture

Police officers put up crime scene tape at set of allotments, at the north of Shenfield Way, near to the scene in Brighton, East Sussex, where remains have been found in the search for the baby of Constance Marten and Mark Gordon. The pair were arrested on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter after being stopped without the baby in Brighton on Monday following several weeks of avoiding the police. Picture date: Thursday March 2, 2023. (PA Wire)

Marten and Gordon were spotted on February 20 carrying the Lidl bag for life, trying to force their way into Hollingbury Golf Club, and searching the bins in the car park for food.

"What does that tell you about conditions and their mentality?", asked the prosecutor.

"It is so cold that they are trying to break in to find shelter and they are so hungry that they are scavenging for food from the bins."

He told jurors Marten had access to large amounts of money, facilitating their travel and purchases, but it is said she avoided using her bank cards to evade capture.

"They have access to money. They are close to Brighton. They can go to Hospital. They can go to the Police. They can contact the authorities for help. They can contact Mr Marten's family. But they do none of those things", he said.

The couple were arrested on February 27 after being spotted trying to steal in Brighton, at a time when the baby had already died.

Mr Little said the couple initially refused to answer questions, including about the location of the baby, and Marten is then accused of "tailoring" her statements to police based on the evidence that had been collected.

She claimed the baby, who she named Victoria, had been born on Christmas Eve 2022 and died three days after the car fire, but then allegedly revised the date of death to a week after the fire.

Mr Little said she eventually "settled" on January 11 for the baby's date of death, but told jurors it is said Marten was "telling a lie to her own benefit", as there was a sighting of the little girl on February 19.

In interview, she claimed to have kept the baby warm, safe, and healthy, and suggested the girl had died in her sleep.

Marten also claimed she had carried around the body after death as she wanted an autopsy and was considering the best way to bury or cremate her.

'Cot death'

In her police interview, the court heard Marten said she and Gordon had considered telling the authorities their baby had died from "cot death".

Mr Little told the court: "It indicates that the two defendants had discussed telling a contrived lie about the death to suggest that they were not responsible for the death.

"Why do that – if there was nothing to hide? Why fail to report the death if there was nothing to hide?"

In lengthy police interviews, Marten also discussed what she had thought of doing with the baby's body while they were on the run.

"I mean I’ve been debating what to do basically", she said. "Not knowing what to, I don’t know whether to bury her in the forest, erm, I did get a spade at one point from the allotment, I was going to bury her here but then er, I didn’t have the strength to bury that far deep because I hadn’t eaten for so long and also we wanted to have a proper - I knew that at some point someone was going to ask where the baby was - and I wanted an autopsy done."

She continued: "I was worried that if I was to bury her in the woods, potentially an animal could, you know, find her and potentially do something to her limbs so I didn’t want that to happen. And I wanted to give her a proper burial so, we carried her with us, not knowing what to do.

"I mean she’s got soil on top of her, like in the bag and obviously the bag got extremely heavy, I don’t know why her body did that because I think she’s quite light but it’s been quite difficult to carry around.

"It’s extremely heavy to carry...it got to the point where she became really heavy, the bag became too heavy to carry, I don’t know why I haven’t looked at the body or neither has Mark but it just became excessively heavy.

"And also Mark and I hadn’t eaten in a long time, it just became impossible to carry it, so sometimes we actually had to leave it in the tent or erm, in the allotment, we left it in there because it was just too, too heavy.

And also I’d put earth over her. Erm, because it started to smell like a week before so that’s when I was like yeah, I’ve got to do something here, I have to make, make a decision on what I’m doing and that’s when I put earth on her.

"Because actually the body didn’t smell at all until that week before we got caught.”

Gordon told police he had made attempts to resuscitate the baby, and suggested Marten had been suffering from "post traumatic distress".

Gordon also commented: “Nobody could have ever have anticipated or looked into the glass and seen that happening”.

Mr Little told the court: "Nobody could have anticipated death. Really? This was a newborn baby. It was freezing cold. No help was sought. The risk was blindingly obvious."

History of 'lies and deception'

Jurors heard Marten used the alias Isabella O'Brien, and claimed to be part of the travelling community - complete with an Irish accent - when she came into contact with NHS professionals in 2017.

She claimed to be estranged from her family as they "disapproved" of her relationship with Gordon.

Mr Little said she revealed they were living in a camper van, she said they had amassed thousands of pounds in parking tickets, and she had planned to pose as a traveller to obtain benefits and social housing.

When an official visit the tent where the couple were actually living, there were concerns, the prosecutor said.

"(She) noticed that the tent was a 'festival' style tent, not suitable for sleeping in during coldweather.

"The tent was bowed under the weight of rainwater and smelled stale.

"There were a number of black bin bags filled with clothes inside and outside.

"The blankets inside were cold and damp. There were bottles of urine at the entrance to the tent."Mr Little added to juror: "I am sure that it is obvious to you why you are hearing about this background evidence. It not only involves a series of lies and deceptions told by (Marten) but importantly is part of a body of evidence that the defendants were warned of the very dangers and difficulties that their conduct in early 2023 created an obvious risk of death."

Both defendants, of no fixed address, deny manslaughter by gross negligence, perverting the course of justice, concealing the birth of a child, child cruelty and causing or allowing the death of a child.

Gordon is sitting in the dock, and jurors have been told Marten is not going to be present for Thursday's court proceedings, but is aware of the details in the prosecuting opening.

The trial continues on Friday.