A wealthy aristocrat and her partner carried their newborn baby around in a Lidl carrier bag during freezing weather as they spent huge sums of money taking taxis around the country to evade authorities, a court has heard.
Constance Marten, 36, and Mark Gordon, 49, settled “off-grid” in a tent on the South Downs after weeks on the run, depriving the little girl – whom they named Victoria – of warmth, shelter and food during her short life, jurors were told.
During the opening of the trial at the Old Bailey, prosecutor Tom Little KC told how the couple’s “reckless, utterly selfish and callous” conduct – carried out to avoid the child being taken into care like her four siblings – led to the “entirely avoidable” death of the little girl.
Marten, who claimed the child died after she fell asleep with her in her jacket, told police she continued to carry the body around in the shopping bag after the baby’s death in the hope of giving her a proper burial. The child’s remains were eventually found in a disused shed, hidden in the bag and covered in rubbish “as if she was refuse”, the court was told.
Mr Little said: “The young baby girl would still – we say – be alive if it was not for the reckless, utterly selfish, callous, cruel, arrogant and ultimately grossly negligent conduct of these two defendants who are on trial.
“They 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.”
The court heard the couple concealed Ms Marten’s 2022 pregnancy from friends, family and healthcare professionals, before going on the run, fearing the child would be taken from them. Jurors heard the infant was the couple’s fifth baby, their other children having previously been taken into care.
Describing how they ended up living out of a tent in Sussex during a high-profile police search for the family, Mr Little said: “They decided that in the middle of a cold winter and in cruel, obviously dangerous weather conditions that they would deprive the baby of what it needed – warmth, shelter, food and ultimately safety.
“They essentially went off-grid and lived in a tent with hardly any clothes, no means keeping and remaining warm and dry with scarcely any food.”
He added: “It was their selfish desire to keep their baby girl that led inexorably to the death of that baby girl.”
The court heard how the couple spent Christmas at a holiday cottage in Northumberland, leaving it in a “disgusting state”. On 5 January, their burnt-out Peugeot 206 was found on the M61. Officers then learned of the baby’s existence after they discovered a placenta, wrapped in a towel, in the back of the car.
Greater Manchester Police found a large number of so-called burner mobile telephones upon searching the vehicle, that are used “if you want to limit the ability of law enforcement to track you down”, the prosecutor said.
They later travelled around the country via taxi with the infant tucked underneath Marten’s coat. On 8 January, it is alleged the couple spent £475 on a taxi from Hornsey to Newhaven in East Sussex – where they were seen heading towards the South Downs.
The court heard that, at one point while on the run, the parents dumped a buggy they had just purchased and transferred the infant to a Lidl “bag for life” where she spent much of her life before she died.
“It would have been plain to the defendants, you must have thought, that this was an entirely inappropriate way to care for any child,” Mr Little added.
Members of Marten’s family, including her mother and brother, were in court for part of the hearing on Thursday.
Jurors were told that Marten comes from a “wealthy family” – adding that the couple had spent hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, on taxi journeys around the country that could have been spent on keeping the child in warmth and safety.
The mother told police she had fallen asleep with the newborn inside her jacket – but when she woke up she was dead.
The court heard Marten and Gordon initially refused to tell officers where their daughter was when they were arrested in Brighton on 27 February, after almost eight weeks on the run.
But after the remains were discovered, she told officers the child – known in court as Baby A – was born at an address in Cumbria on 24 December. She estimated she died on 11 January, although the prosecution believes the child was seen alive as late as 19 February.
Extracts of her police interview read to the jury said: “I had her in my jacket and I hadn’t slept properly in quite a few days and erm, I fell asleep holding her sitting up and she, when I woke up she wasn’t alive. When I woke she wasn’t alive, in my jacket.
“I believe I fell asleep on top of her. But she didn’t make any crying or movements so, and when I woke up she wasn’t alive. Then I was holding her in my jacket, that’s how I usually held her but I think I fell asleep crouching over her and she passed away.”
She told officers she and Gordon had attempted to resuscitate the baby. Afterwards, she kept the child’s body for some time in the carrier bag, later filled with soil, because she wanted her to have an autopsy and proper burial.
By the time the remains were found, pathologists were unable to ascertain a definitive cause of death. However a pathologist recorded an overall cause of death related to neglect, which could have been caused by exposure and hypothermia or co-sleeping, the court heard.
The pair both deny manslaughter by gross negligence of their daughter between 4 January and 27 February last year.
They also deny charges of perverting the course of justice by concealing the body, concealing the birth of a child, child cruelty and allowing the death of a child.
The infant’s remains were found in a plastic bag in a locked shed at an overgrown allotment in the Hollingbury area of Brighton on 1 March. The discovery came after Marten and Gordon were arrested in nearby Stanmer Villas.
The trial, scheduled to last until 8 March, continues.