‘High pitched’ cries of a baby were heard during a stormy night on the South Downs around the same time a fugitive couple were allegedly living off grid with their newborn daughter, a court has heard.
Wealthy aristocrat Constance Marten, 36, and Mark Gordon, 49, are on trial at the Old Bailey accused of the manslaughter of their daughter Victoria.
It is alleged the couple travelled across England in taxis and lived in a tent on the South Downs in a bid to keep the baby, after four other children were taken into care.
Little Victoria’s body was found in a Lidl supermarket bag covered in rubbish just days after the pair was arrested in East Sussex on February 27, 2023.
Seaford resident Sarah Hidden told the Old Bailey she heard a baby crying on two consecutive nights last January.
Days later, she was out walking her dog on a coastal path when she thought she spotted the fugitives she had seen on the news.
Giving evidence by video link, Mrs Hidden said: ‘A couple of nights before I saw the couple there was the sound of a baby crying. I was asleep but the crying woke me up.’
She said it seemed to be moving from the direction of a golf course on the South Downs and was ‘continuous’ for about 30 to 40 minutes.
On the first night she heard the crying, there was a storm and the weather was windy and rainy.
She told jurors: ‘I know people take babies out to get them to sleep but I don’t think they would do it in a storm.’
The next night she allegedly heard a baby crying again and it was also raining, she said, adding: ‘It was definitely a young baby crying.
‘It’s a different sound to an older baby crying, more constant, a bit more high pitched, urgent sounding.’
Mrs Hidden told jurors that she saw the couple on a coastal path some time between last January 16 and 27, when she took her dog for a walk.
She moved to the side to let a big group of ramblers through, then ‘bumped into a couple’ whom she called ‘strange’, adding: ‘They could only have appeared out of the bushes further up.
‘They were walking alongside each other but they were not talking or looking at each other, but they were together.’
The man was not carrying anything while the woman ‘seemed laden down with things’, including bags and something on her shoulder, Mrs Hidden said.
She added: ‘My instinct was it was a small baby, but I did not see a baby. I do not remember seeing a head or legs.
‘It was the position you would hold one but it could have been another bag.’
She also told jurors she thought they were the missing people she had seen on the news and looked for a second time.
Mrs Hidden told jurors the woman ‘did not look happy’ or as if she was part of the rambler group, and said she looked ‘worn in on herself’.
On what she thought the woman was doing, the witness said: ‘My immediate instinct was she was holding a baby, it was the way I would hold a baby. I cannot say that was what she was holding because I did not see a baby.’
Prosecutor Tom Little KC asked: ‘At about this time, when you were on one of your walks with your dog or otherwise, did you see anything else in this area?’
Mrs Hidden replied: ‘Yes, I saw a tent twice, two different times in two different places. The first time it was in the bushes, the second time was along the Cuckmere river, just off a path.’
The defendants, of no fixed address, have continued to deny manslaughter by gross negligence between January 4 and February 27 last year.
They are also charged with perverting the course of justice, concealing the birth of a child, child cruelty and causing or allowing the death of a child.
Last week, the court was shown harrowing images of belongings recovered from the couple’s burnt-out car which sparked a nationwide search, including a baby’s blanket, sleeping bag, coat and mittens.
When opening the trial, prosecutor Tom Little KC said the infant ‘would still be alive if it was not for their reckless, utterly selfish, callous, cruel, arrogant and ultimately grossly negligent conduct’.
The Old Bailey trial continues.
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