Runaway aristocrat Constance Marten tells court she 'gave her baby the best any mother could'

7 March 2024, 11:27 | Updated: 7 March 2024, 20:02

Marten (L) and the couple spotted on CCTV where she is thought to be hiding the baby under her coat
Marten (L) and the couple spotted on CCTV where she is thought to be hiding the baby under her coat. Picture: Metropolitan Police

By StephenRigley

A mother accused of killing her own baby has told a court she "gave her baby the best any mother could" and did "nothing but show her love".

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Constance Marten has taken the stand today to give evidence in her own manslaughter trial.

The 36-year-old and partner Mark Gordon are charged with killing their baby Victoria after taking her to live in a tent, in a desperate bid to stop her being taken away by social services, the court has been told.

As Marten was giving evidence, defence barrister Francis FitzGibbon KC asked her: "Did you do anything to harm baby Victoria?"

Marten replied: "Absolutely not."

Mr FitzGibbon said: "Did you do anything cruel to baby Victoria?"

Constance Marten and Mark Gordon deny manslaughter by gross negligence
Constance Marten and Mark Gordon deny manslaughter by gross negligence. Picture: Metropolitan Police

Marten said: "No. I did nothing but show her love."

She told jurors she did not expose her baby to cold or allow her to get too hot so far as she was aware. Mr FitzGibbon said: "So far as you are concerned, did you give her anything less than the proper care you thought she deserved?"

Marten replied: "I gave her the best that any mother would, yeah."

She told jurors Victoria died last January 9, saying: "I do not think it is anything I will ever move on from."

She said she felt "guilty", adding: "I think initially it was disbelief, shock, intense grief."

Previously the trial heard that baby Victoria's placenta was found in an exploded car on a Manchester motorway sparking a huge police hunt as the couple spent nearly two months camping on the South Downs near Brighton.

Victoria was later found dead in a Lidl Bag for Life.

Prosecutors claim she died from exposure after weeks in bitterly cold conditions. Marten said the baby died asleep in her arms after a few nights of camping telling police: "I believe I feel asleep on top of her."

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The couple met in 2016 and had four other children together in quick succession, who were all eventually taken into care, jurors have heard.

Marten earlier told the hearing boyfriend Gordon, 49, told her to say their baby girl had died of "cot death".

In a police interview at Brighton Custody Suite on March 1 last year, she told officers she fell asleep with the baby in her arms and woke up to find the baby was dead but prosecutors argue the baby died weeks later after being exposed to the cold weather.

Marten said: "We were staying outside in the countryside. She was in my jacket and I was keeping her warm. I was holding her and hugging her and I was extremely tired, I hadn't slept in probably two days, we'd just arrived there I fell asleep with her in my jacket.

"Marten began to cry as she told the police officer what happened.

"When I woke up I was like crouched over her like that, holding her and she wasn't moving when I woke up. I don't know how long I'd been asleep. I saw she wasn't moving and her lips had gone blue. And, yeah, I don't know how long we slept, and it was just so tired, I don't know.

"Erm, I tried to resuscitate her, for like, well I tried to breathe in her mouth and pump her chest. And er, there was no response. So I wrapped her in a scarf and cradled her for a few minutes. I didn't know what to do.' Crying, Marten said: "I don't know how it happened."

She added: “Initially Mark and I were talking about what to do with the situation and I think, like two weeks after it happened, I was debating whether to hand myself in. Mark advised me to say it was a cot death and I was not holding her. And he advised me to say that I lay her down and then when we woke up she was on her front and she’s passed away. But that isn’t what happened. So he may try to say that in order to protect me because he wants to protect my interests.”

Giving evidence last month, a pathologist told the court the baby could have died from the cold or co-sleeping.

Dr Nat Cary told the Old Bailey at an earlier hearing that baby Victoria was wearing just a nappy and had signs of "significant decomposition" when he examined her.

He told jurors that wintry temperatures slowed down the rate of decomposition but the condition of the body meant Victoria had not died recently.

Dr Cary said the post-mortem examination found the cause of death was "unascertained".

He said there were no signs of head injury, natural disease, congenital abnormalities, or any injuries consistent with an assault or constraint of the child.

Asked to consider possible reasons for Victoria's death in relation to the facts of the case, Dr Cary said: "A number of causes have been ruled out.

"Really when you start to take into account the circumstances, which is really a matter for the jury, hypothermia, being out in a cold environment, is a very important cause of death.

"The other would be co-sleeping - sharing facilities with another person where overheating may apply or rebreathing, breathing in expired air.

"It is fair to say none of that is provable. You cannot do a blood test."

Another possibility was obstruction of breathing, he said: "At this stage it is very easy to impair breathing without any obvious signs in post-mortem examination."

Cross-examining for Marten, Francis FitzGibbon KC raised a circumstance in which a child died when a mother fell asleep while feeding.

He said: "I'm not talking here about a policy, a plan of putting a baby down in a bed next to mother.

"I'm talking about mother feeding baby, drops off, exhausted, wakes up and baby has died.

"That's a phenomenon that can occur anywhere with a tired breast-feeding mother."

Dr Cary agreed that possibility could not be excluded.

Mr FitzGibbon said: "You cannot determine when the baby died."

The pathologist replied: "I cannot."

Marten and Gordon 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 trial continues.

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