A wealthy woman and her partner allegedly kept their newborn daughter in a Lidl bag-for-life then dumped her “as if she was refuse” when the baby died while they were living off-grid, a court has heard.
The baby’s “cruel and arrogant” parents – Constance Marten, 36, and Mark Gordon, 49 – left her in a disused shed inside a shopping bag covered in rubbish, the Old Bailey was told.
Jurors heard that the infant – whom Marten told police was to be called Victoria – was the couple’s fifth baby, their other children having previously been taken into care.
It was their “selfish desire” to keep the baby that ultimately led to her “entirely avoidable” death, prosecutor Tom Little KC said on Thursday.
Opening their trial, Mr Little said the baby “would still be alive if it was not for the reckless, utterly selfish, callous, cruel, arrogant and ultimately grossly negligent conduct of the two defendants on trial”.
He told jurors: “They put their relationship and their view of life before the life of a little baby girl.”
Mr Little said the defendants decided they “knew best” and ignored the advice they were given rather than act on the vulnerable baby’s best interests.
“They decided that, in the middle of a cold winter and in cruel and obviously dangerous weather conditions, they would deprive the baby of what it needed – warmth, shelter and food and ultimately safety,” he said.
“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.
“Their selfish desire to keep their baby girl led inexorably to the death of that very baby.
“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.”
The couple began camping in “freezing and obviously dangerous conditions” on the South Downs with insufficient clothes, equipment and food and no medical assistance, the court was told.
Mr Little said: “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.”
Marten comes from “a wealthy family” but prioritised her finances on transport instead of “warmth and safety”, the court heard.
Mr Little said: “The second defendant comes from a wealthy family. She has not had a deprived upbringing. She had potential access to money and whatever help she needed.”
She did not attend court on Thursday.
The jury was told how the couple had travelled across England in cars and taxis between December 2022 and February 2023, with the newborn baby tucked underneath Marten’s coat and later kept in a Lidl “bag-for-life”.
A missing persons inquiry was launched after a Peugeot the defendants were allegedly using caught fire in Greater Manchester on January 5, and the couple became front page news, the court heard.
After travelling to Liverpool and then Essex, Marten and Gordon ended up in Whitechapel in London, where the latter allegedly bought a “thin and flimsy” tent, pillows and sleeping bags.
Mr Little said they dumped a buggy they had only bought earlier that day before suggesting the baby was then transferred to a red Lidl “bag-for-life” where she spent much of the rest of her life.
The court heard the couple then travelled to the East Sussex area – allegedly spending more than £400 on a taxi – where they were spotted multiple times before their arrest in Brighton on February 27.
The newborn’s body was found on March 1 in a Lidl bag.
The court heard Marten gave different accounts of when her baby had died before eventually settling on January 11, explaining to police that she fell asleep holding her daughter and that when she woke up the baby was not alive.
“I wanted to turn myself in at the time, I’ve been debating it, obviously it’s two months later now,” she told police.
In Gordon’s account to the police, he said he had tried to resuscitate his daughter.
“I gave the baby CPR,” he said.
“I was trying to breathe into the baby trying to get her back to resuscitate and it was the most harrowing experience to see my child like that and it was one of the worst things that I ever saw in my life.”
Marten told police she kept the baby’s body because she wanted to have a post-mortem examination done.
“I don’t know if you found, there’s a bottle of petroleum in the bag because I debated whether to cremate her myself, get rid of the evidence, but I decided to keep her because I knew at some point in the future I was going to be asked about it, but I just didn’t know what to do,” she added.
She told officers they ran away with the baby after their car “exploded” assuming that police would take their daughter away, and then decided to “remove ourselves from society” when people started to recognise them on the streets.
The court heard it was difficult to determine a cause of death but that the pathology was consistent with death caused by hypothermia or exposure.
The couple, of no fixed address, deny manslaughter by gross negligence of the girl between January 4 and February 27 last year.
They are also charged with perverting the course of justice, concealing the birth of a child, child cruelty, and causing or allowing the death of a child.
The trial, expected to go on until March 8, continues on Friday.