Jurors have been shown the first glimpses of a dark-haired baby girl who died after a wealthy aristocrat and her partner spent weeks living off-grid in freezing conditions.
The prosecution claim the “reckless, utterly selfish and callous” conduct of Constance Marten, 36, and Mark Gordon, 49, who kept their daughter secret and went on the run to stop her being taken into care, led to the death of the newborn.
The tiny infant, named Victoria, was captured on camera wrapped in a blanket zipped inside Marten’s coat in CCTV footage played to the Old Bailey in the second week of their trial for gross negligence manslaughter.
Marten, wearing a facemask with a scarf wrapped around her head, was seen cradling the newborn outside a shop as she unzipped a red padded jacket to re-position the baby in footage captured in East Ham, east London, on 7 January last year.
The court heard the couple concealed Marten’s pregnancy and travelled the country to evade the authorities driven by their “selfish” desire to keep the infant, after their four other children were taken into care.
A major police search was launched after they fled the scene of a car fire on the M61 near Manchester, leaving their possessions scattered at the side of the motorway and a placenta wrapped in a towel inside the burnt-out Peugeot 206.
The prosecution say they then spent huge sums of money travelling the country by taxi, keeping Victoria hidden inside Marten’s jacket, before settling off-grid in the South Downs, in East Sussex, where they spent seven weeks living in a tent in freezing conditions before the couple were arrested.
The child’s remains were found several days later in a disused shed, hidden in the bag and covered in rubbish “as if she was refuse”, the court was told.
Opening the case last week, Tom Little KC told the jury the parents carried their newborn around a Lidl carrier bag for much of her short life.
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.
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 prosecution alleges the newborn died from neglect as a result of exposure or hypothermia or as a result of co-sleeping, accusing the parents of negligence that was “truly exceptionally bad”.
Mr Little added: “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.”
However John Femi-Ola KC, defending Gordon, insisted the infant was “well cared for” and died in “heartbreaking circumstances”.
“The defence contends that the baby was warm and dry and always fed so that she was well nourished,” he told the Old Bailey.
“The baby didn’t require medical assistance and died in circumstances so heartbreakingly described by her mother in an interview with the police.”
The court previously heard that Marten initially refused to reveal where she had left her baby when she was arrested on 27 February last year. But after the child’s remains were discovered a few days later, she told officers she had fallen asleep with the baby zipped inside her jacket and awoke to find her dead.
Giving evidence last week, a van driver who stopped to help the couple after their car caught fire told how he fears the baby would still be alive if he had stayed with the family at the side of the M61.
Ken Hudson told the Old Bailey he started flashing his lights when he saw flames and black smoke coming from the car on his way home from work on 5 January last year.
He said Marten ran out of the burning vehicle on the hard shoulder, while Gordon opened the boot and started pulling out their possessions.
When he realised she was carrying a baby, he asked if the child was OK – to which she replied: “She’s fine.”
“I put my hand on the baby’s head and said something like, God bless, stay safe,” he told the court, noting that the infant’s head felt cold and she was not moving.
“Throughout the year I have been cut up myself because I believe that if I would have stayed with that vehicle and the people, that the baby may be still alive,” he added.
Police officer DC Martha Bourne told the court how detectives tracked the families movements by CCTV as they zig-zagged across the country by taxi in the days after the car fire, before the “trail went cold” on 12 January shortly after they arrived in Newhaven.
One cab driver recalled the baby was only wearing a nappy and a blanket when he drove the pair 240 miles from Liverpool to Harwich, Essex, on a cold night – although Mr Femi-Ola, defending, suggested this was because the child was being changed.
They defendants were not seen again on camera until 20 February, when they were spotted near a Brighton golf course club house “rummaging through bins”, Joel Smith, for the prosecution, told the court.
Dog walker Paul Rogers told jurors he had seen the defendants looking “dishevelled” near the golf course a few days earlier.
Giving evidence on Tuesday, he said: “As I got closer to them I noticed they looked a bit dishevelled, a bit dirty, possibly homeless people.
“The man was carrying plastic bags, a bag in each hand. The woman was pushing a buggy. They didn’t have anything else with them.”
Marten and Gordon 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.