'Jesus survived in a barn': Runaway aristocrat Constance Marten defends decision to live in tent with newborn baby

13 March 2024, 17:22 | Updated: 13 March 2024, 18:59

Constance Marten has defended her decision to live in a tent with her baby
Constance Marten has defended her decision to live in a tent with her baby. Picture: Met police

By Emma Soteriou

Runaway aristocrat Constance Marten has defended her decision to live in a tent with her newborn baby.

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

Marten was cross-examined at the Old Bailey about the couple's decision to buy a tent and live off grid on Wednesday.

She told jurors that Bedouin families walk through cold deserts with children, adding: "Jesus survived in a barn.

"I would do anything to protect my child to prevent her being taken by the system that's abhorrent, yeah."

She also claimed that two of her four other children were spat on and physically abused after being taken into care previously.

"I have grown up with luxury, I have been blessed in that respect. I like feathered duvets and comfort," she told jurors.

"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."

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When asked if she found the conditions uncomfortable, Marten said: "I'm pretty outdoorsy but I would rather be in a bed."

She went on: "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.

"A mother's love for her child is incredibly strong.

"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."

Despite there being no heating, hot water or electricity, Marten said: "People around the world live in conditions like that... as long as your child is well taken care of and loved."

Marten also said she did not believe a medical advice warning against keeping a newborn baby outside for long periods.

"I do not agree with it because there are babies who spend hours outside. People live in countries without central heating," she said.

Constance Marten cradling her baby inside her coat while on the run

Marten repeatedly dismissed the 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.

"I'm not going to put her alive in a Lidl bag, I'm sorry."

Referring to CCTV images played in court, prosecutor Joel Smith said: "You are pretty cavalier about how you treated this child, full stop."

Marten replied: "Everything we are doing is for her. I don't think we are cavalier at all. We are trying to protect her and love her and prevent her being taken.

"I wish she was alive... It was just a very sad set of circumstances and a tragic accident that could have happened anywhere but it happened to me in a tent."

When asked if she would do it again, Marten replied: "No."

The prosecutor went on: "Even now, even after everything you do not accept it was wrong to take that child into the tent."

The defendant said: "No, because that's not where she passed away. I do feel responsible for her death, absolutely, but I do not think it had anything to do with being in a tent.

"I have to learn to forgive myself."

Marten being questioned last week
Marten being questioned last week. Picture: Alamy

It comes after Marten 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" in the Lidl "bag for life", 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."

Mr Smith asserted the couple were "hideously ill-prepared" to look after Victoria.

The defendant, who described Gordon as her "amazing husband", told jurors: "We had enough to keep her warm, absolutely. She was our number one priority."

Jurors were shown CCTV of Marten carrying Victoria underneath her zipped-up jacket in east London last January 7.

In the footage, Marten appeared to adjust the baby after she slipped down in her arms.

Asked if that was an appropriate way to carry a newborn baby, Marten said she had "always" done it with her children, adding: "As long as it's secure. People carry children in their arms all the time."

In further CCTV on the same day, baby Victoria was seen with her head tilted back as she was lifted up by Marten and placed in a buggy that Gordon had bought but which was designed for an older child.

Mr Smith suggested it showed that Marten had treated Victoria in a "cavalier fashion".

The defendant accepted it appeared from the video that she was not supporting Victoria's head but insisted: "She's fine. If she was not, she would be howling. I'm confident with my children."

A Serco prison van arriving at the Old Bailey
A Serco prison van arriving at the Old Bailey. Picture: Alamy

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

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

The baby's remains were found by police in a Lidl bag inside a shed on a nearby allotment on March 1, 2023. T

he 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.