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Constance Marten feels ‘responsible’ for death of her baby while on the run, court told

Marten is giving evidence at the Old Bailey over the death of her baby (PA)
Marten is giving evidence at the Old Bailey over the death of her baby (PA)

Aristocrat Constance Marten told jurors she feels “responsible” for “falling asleep” on her newborn while living in a tent on the run with Mark Gordon.

The 36-year-old mother-of-five, who denies gross negligence manslaughter of her daughter Victoria, told the Old Bailey the baby was her “pride and joy”.

The infant died while the couple were living off-grid in a tent in wintry conditions after going on the run to stop her from being taken into care like her four older siblings.

The prosecution alleges the couple’s “reckless and utterly selfish” behaviour led to the “entirely avoidable” death of the newborn.

But the mother told the court Victoria, who she delivered unaided in an Airbnb on Christmas Eve 2022, died after she fell asleep with her zipped inside her jacket on 9 January last year.

Giving evidence for a second day on Friday, she told the jury she believes she may have fallen asleep on the youngster after they pitched a tent in Newhaven to “lay low”.

“She was our pride and joy. I had four kids. I know how to look after children. Our primary concern was Victoria,” she told the court.

“I do feel responsible for falling asleep on her if that’s what happened. I’m not sure because the autopsy was inconclusive but I do feel responsible for her.”

Marten and Gordon deny gross negligence manslaughter of their daughter Victoria (PA)
Marten and Gordon deny gross negligence manslaughter of their daughter Victoria (PA)

Answering questions from her barrister Francis Fitzgibbon KC, the mother said she and Gordon stayed put in Newhaven for several days in the wake of the death, until the pair travelled to Brighton on 12 January with Victoria’s remains in a Lidl carrier bag.

She said they were in a “state of grief and fear” and she considered handing herself in, but feared she would be blamed for the infant’s death.

She explained she had previously read about other parents who were wrongly jailed for their child’s death during family court proceedings over her four other children.

“I was too scared to take that risk because I knew that with all the press coverage I felt that people wanted something negative to have happened and they wouldn’t believe the truth,” she told the court.

Marten, who was wearing a white floral blouse and dark trousers, said Gordon became “anorexically thin” and “very unwell” in the weeks that followed after they stopped venturing into shops for food amid fears they would be caught.

They left Victoria’s body in the tent a couple of times but usually carried her with them, disguising themselves with glasses and a cap, the court was told.

But they were finally arrested on 27 February after they were spotted purchasing food and taking out cash from a shop in Brighton.

The infant’s remains were eventually found several days later in a Lidl shopping bag in a disused shed, covered in rubbish.

Asked why she did not tell police what had happened to Victoria straight away, she replied: “I was terrified. Scared of this happening – what’s happening now…being on trial.”

She said she did not want them to find her remains, which the couple had left in the allotment shed where they had been sleeping after they had been “number one” in the news for so long.

The moment police arrested Marten in Brighton after weeks on the run (Police)
The moment police arrested Marten in Brighton after weeks on the run (Police)

Under cross-examination, the mother insisted she gave her daughter the best level of care and told the court that “accidents happen”.

“I showed my baby the maximum amount of love that I had to give,” she told prosecutor Joel Smith.

“Mr Smith, in life, accidents happen and they are tragic but it’s not something I could have foreseen in any way, shape or form.”

Facing questions over whether it was safe to raise a newborn in a tent in winter, she argued the court was looking at the issue from a “Western perspective” – citing children in Mongolia, children living in igloos and refugees raising infants in Calais.

She also claimed that her two oldest children suffered abuse after being taken into care and that a family court was wrong to take them away, adding: “I think it is a very, very corrupt system.”

Mr Smith asserted that Marten and Gordon went underground with baby Victoria because she thought social services were wrong.

He asked: “Has it occurred to you that they were right?”

Marten replied: “Victoria would be alive if it were not for them. I’m not saying they are to blame for her death. I’m saying we were in a very unfortunate position.”

Mr Smith went on: “Has it occurred to you in trying to prove them wrong you proved them more right than ever?”

The defendant replied: “I wasn’t trying to prove them wrong I was trying to bring her up with the love that she deserves with her parents.”

She also claimed she put on a fake Irish accent and gave birth to her first child under a false identity because she was trying to flee her “bigoted” family.

“I had to escape my family because my family are extremely oppressive and bigoted and they wouldn’t allow me to have children with my husband and would do anything to erase the child from the family line,” she told the court.

It is the second day of evidence from Marten, who yesterday insisted she had shown baby Victoria “nothing but love” and choked back tears as she relived the moment she awoke to find Victoria dead inside her coat as they camped on the South Downs.

She told the court she and Gordon acted on “impulse and instinct” after their car caught fire on 5 January and travelled the country by taxi – fearing her family was using private investigators to trail them. Eventually they bought a tent and took a taxi to the port at Newhaven to “lay low away from prying eyes” amid a high-profile police appeal to find them, she told the jury.

The couple both deny gross negligence manslaughter of their daughter Victoria between 4 January and 27 February last year.

They also deny charges of perverting the course of justice by concealing the body, along with concealing the birth of a child, child cruelty, and allowing the death of a child.

The trial continues.