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‘Jesus survived in a barn’: Manslaughter-accused Constance Marten defends living in tent with newborn

CCTV footage of Constance Marten holding baby Victoria in East Ham, London  (PA)
CCTV footage of Constance Marten holding baby Victoria in East Ham, London (PA)

An aristocrat accused of killing her baby has defended living off-grid while on the run with her newborn, telling jurors: “Jesus survived in a barn, didn’t he?”.

Constance Marten, 36, and her partner, Mark Gordon, 49, are on trial after baby Victoria died while they were camping on the South Downs in wintry conditions last year.

While being cross-examined at the Old Bailey, she argued their period living in a tent on the South Downs was being looked at from a “Western perspective”, adding that Bedouin families walk through cold deserts with children while others live in shanty towns.

Constance Marten rejected the prosecution’s suggestion that her baby was carried alive in a Lidl bag (PA)
Constance Marten rejected the prosecution’s suggestion that her baby was carried alive in a Lidl bag (PA)

Marten became tearful when questioned if she was responsible for her baby’s death, replying: “I think to a degree of course, I feel responsible as her mum for her death but at the same time I have to love and forgive myself because it was a really awful set of circumstances but I didn’t mean to fall asleep.

“I live with that sadness because she died in my arms.”

Giving evidence for the fourth day, she strongly rejected the prosecution’s “ridiculous” suggestion that she had carried her daughter in a Lidl “bag for life” when she was alive.

“This whole line of reasoning is absurd, that she is alive in the bag,” she said. “If I’d done that she would have been screaming, people would have noticed. I’m not going to put her alive in a Lidl bag, I’m sorry it is absurd.”

Victoria’s remains were found in a red Lidl bag inside a shed on an allotment shed on 1 March 2023, a few days after her parents were caught and arrested by the police.

She was found alongside a used beer can and a sandwich wrapper, with her mother previously telling the court that she died after Marten fell asleep with her under her jacket.

The red Lidl carrier bag in which Victoria was found (Metropolitan Police)
The red Lidl carrier bag in which Victoria was found (Metropolitan Police)

Marten also became agitated when asked about a teddy bear babygrow Victoria was wearing in CCTV footage from east London which was later among items recovered with her “dumped” body.

She insisted Victoria was not “dumped” but had been “placed” in the Lidl bag, telling jurors: “It’s awful, I know.

“The only thing I can say, if someone passes away the immediate reaction is panic. Mark and I were not in a good place. We were in fear and grief.

“She was not dumped anywhere. She was with us the whole time.”

Throughout the day, she was repeatedly questioned about their decision to camp in a tent in sub-zero temperatures with few possessions.

She stressed: “We were not looking to live in a tent. We were acting on instinct. She was our number one priority. We were living in a tent for Victoria.

Marten is on trial with her partner Mark Gordon (PA)
Marten is on trial with her partner Mark Gordon (PA)

“A mother’s love for her child is incredibly strong,” she continued. “There was no way I was going to part with my child. We were hiding from the entire British public because I was worried about Victoria being taken.”

The couple had purchased a tent from Argos shortly after the first police media appeals began to emerge requesting for information on their whereabouts.

Jurors have heard that Gordon and Marten went on the run from authorities in a bid to keep their baby after their four other children were taken into care, and that they had concealed her pregnancy.

Giving her reasoning, she said that social services had “stolen” her children, and claimed two of her children were spat on and physically abused after being taken into care.

“I would do anything to protect my child to prevent her being taken by the system that’s abhorrent, yeah,” she said.

She also took aim at her family, accusing them of involvement in the removal of her children: “I have had a very privileged upbringing but my family are used to getting what they want and they won’t stop until they get it.”

The baby’s remains were found in a bag in an allotment shed after the couple were arrested (Metropolitan Police)
The baby’s remains were found in a bag in an allotment shed after the couple were arrested (Metropolitan Police)

She added: “I’m not passing blame on anyone but my family have a huge responsibility in this.”

While accepting that the tent had no heating, hot water or electricity, Marten insisted that “people around the world live in conditions like that”.

The wealthy aristocrat told jurors: “I have grown up with luxury, I have been blessed in that respect. I like feathered duvets and comfort but I would do anything for my baby. Anything.

“So it was an easy decision to make. I would rather be in a plush bed in a palace. I would rather be in a nice big bed.”

However, she stressed that the decision to live in a tent was only meant to be for a “pit stop” until they found somewhere to live in the countryside.

Jurors were shown CCTV of Marten carrying Victoria underneath her zipped-up jacket in east London on 7 January, where she appeared to adjust the baby after she slipped down in her arms.

A screen grab taken from bodyworn police camera footage of the moment Marten was arrested (PA)
A screen grab taken from bodyworn police camera footage of the moment Marten was arrested (PA)

Asked if that was an appropriate way to carry a newborn baby, mother-of-five Marten said she had “always” done it with her children.

After moving between various hotels and Airbnbs, the couple abandoned many of their belongings after their car burst into flames near Bolton, Greater Manchester, last January 5, which alerted them to the police.

When they were finally arrested in Brighton last 27 February, they had refused to answer officers’ urgent questions about where their baby was and whether she was alive or dead.

The 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.

The Old Bailey trial continues.