Constance Marten was warned about sleeping in a tent with one of her other babies, court told

Constance Marten was warned about the risks of falling asleep holding her baby when one of her other children was an infant, and was told by social services it was not safe to raise the newborn in a tent, jurors were told.

The Old Bailey heard that Ms Marten, 36, had concealed her pregnancy and gone on the run with her partner Mark Gordon, 49, after their four other children were taken into care.

The prosecution allege that the couple’s “reckless and utterly selfish” behaviour led to the “entirely avoidable” death of the infant, named Victoria, after the pair spent weeks living “off-grid” in a tent in freezing conditions on the South Downs.

The couple, who deny gross negligence manslaughter, insist that Ms Marten fell asleep with the baby zipped inside her jacket and awoke to find her dead. The infant’s remains were eventually found last March in a Lidl shopping bag in a disused shed, covered in rubbish.

In evidence read to the jury on Tuesday, prosecutor Joel Smith revealed that social services had previously warned Ms Marten about the risks of “suffocation, overheating and positional asphyxia” in relation to one of her other children – referred to as Child FF.

Constance Marten and Mark Gordon (PA)
Constance Marten and Mark Gordon (PA)

He told the court that social services had issued a nationwide alert on that occasion in an attempt to locate the couple while she was expecting Child FF – an action that can be instigated by the NHS when they suspect that a pregnant woman requires protection or support.

But when Ms Marten went into labour, the couple told doctors their names were Isabella O’Brien and James Amer. Ms Marten put on a fake Irish accent, telling medics they were from the travelling community and had been raised in a caravan. Their true identities were only discovered after a social worker recalled the alert.

One social worker told Ms Marten that “some babygros and nappies is simply not enough for a newborn baby to be safe”, the court heard, after learning that the couple had been living in a tent in a wooded area with Child FF.

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More South and South East stories - click above

The staff member described it as a festival-style tent, which was bowed under the weight of rainwater and smelled stale.

Recalling her conversation with Ms Marten in a statement to police, the social worker said: “I spoke to Constance regarding the unsuitability and discomfort of their situation, namely living in a tent.

“I explained to her that it was winter, the conditions were freezing, and the cramped space would be wholly inappropriate for a baby to live in.

“Constance responded that while it was challenging, they spent their days outside and only used the tent for sleeping at night. She made it clear that she and Mark had an alternative lifestyle and that different people had different ways of living. She asked me not to judge her for this.”

After Ms Marten was housed in a temporary mother-and-baby placement, she was told of the importance of not allowing herself to doze off with Child FF on her chest, the jury heard.

Concerns were raised a second time, the court heard, with the social worker noting that on this occasion the “critical dangers of falling asleep with a baby on one’s chest were firmly raised to Constance, who once again stated she understood the risk and would take this on board”.

The moment police discovered the remains of Constance Marten and Mark Gordon’s baby covered in leaves in a rubbish-filled shopping bag (Metropolitan Police)
The moment police discovered the remains of Constance Marten and Mark Gordon’s baby covered in leaves in a rubbish-filled shopping bag (Metropolitan Police)

The couple went on to have three more children, but all four were taken into care after a judge concluded that their living arrangements fell “well below” what a reasonable parent would be expected to provide and noted an incident of domestic violence between the parents, the court heard.

Jurors were told that Ms Marten’s father had previously initiated legal proceedings to apply for a wardship of the children.

Social services said the parents had “interacted well” with their children during supervised contact sessions, but that their attendance was “inconsistent”, leaving the children distressed and unsettled, the court heard.

One of the children became quiet and withdrawn, telling staff: “Mummy and Daddy cancelled again.” The child was described as “inconsolable” when the parents failed to turn up at the contact centre.

Giving evidence by video link, paediatrician Dr Gaurav Atreja said keeping a newborn baby in a tent in temperatures of between 5C and 10C “can be fatal”.

Prosecutor Tom Little KC asked what the risks were to a baby placed inside a jacket with the parent sitting down. Dr Atreja said: “If a mother goes to sleep, she can bend over the baby and the baby can be smothered.”

However, the court was told that the cause of Victoria’s death was “unascertained” due to the condition of her body.

The evidence comes after the court last week heard that Ms Marten, who had received almost £50,000 from her trust fund in the weeks before the couple went on the run, had told detectives she believed social services had taken their four other children after a family court blamed Mr Gordon for her falling from a window.

Ms Marten insisted Mr Gordon was her “soulmate”, after the couple met in London and had a marriage ceremony in Peru around seven years ago.

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 is scheduled to last until 8 March.