TOM RAWSTORNE: The trail for Constance Marten and Mark Gordon had gone cold
The massive police hunt ended in the way it had begun – with two people, not three.
When Constance Marten and Mark Gordon disappeared from London in early January their baby had not yet been born.
And when they were finally arrested on Monday night, more than 50 days later, still there was no baby – just Marten and Gordon wandering through the back streets of Brighton on a bitterly cold night.
From the beginning of the investigation, the welfare of the child was the main focus of police. Their message to Marten was that she urgently needed to have the baby checked over by medics.
‘As a mum, I would like to make a direct appeal to Constance,’ said Chief Superintendent Michaela Kerr, of Greater Manchester Police.
Hunt for baby: Police search teams in Roedale Valley Allotments in Brighton yesterday
‘Constance, I know this is an exceptionally hard time for you and you are likely feeling scared, but I promise that our No1 priority is the same as yours – to keep your beautiful newborn safe.’
That plea was put out on Friday January 6 under 24 hours after the couple’s car had broken down in flames and was abandoned on the hard shoulder of the M61 near Bolton.
In the back was a placenta and the aftermath of a birth. Police also discovered 35-year-old Marten’s passport in the car. Checks established that the vehicle had been bought for cash days earlier in London where Marten and Gordon, 48, had been living.
As Metropolitan Police Detective Superintendent Lewis Basford, who later led the hunt for the family, told me last week, until that point no one knew that Marten was pregnant.
‘If it wasn’t for that car fire, we probably today would be unaware that baby had been born,’ he said, explaining that Marten had carefully concealed her pregnancy. ‘They had planned, they had stored money up and intended to be out of sight – and then this car fire happened.’
For legal reasons, police have been unable to discuss publicly the full background of their concerns for Marten, Gordon and their baby.
But, as the tragic death of missing dog walker Nicola Bulley recently demonstrated, there has been no shortage of armchair ‘experts’ who think they know better.
On social media, some were quick to question police motives for wanting to find the couple, accusing them of racism and wasting resources.
‘The bias of this country’s police is appalling,’ wrote one on Twitter. ‘Go arrest actual criminals.’ Another added: ‘Leave them alone – they just want to raise their family in peace.’
But police pointed out that they were not taking their actions ‘to be awkward or interfere’. They called on the public to trust their ‘evaluation and risk assessments’ – and to be aware of the fact that they had the full support of Marten’s family.
And nor was it the case, as some suggested, that police were publicising the case only because of Marten’s privileged background. That only emerged days after their initial appeal – as did information about Gordon’s background. Of course, once the details of their very different upbringings emerged, the story inevitably garnered more coverage in the media. Marten is an aristocrat whose family boasts links to the Royals and a £100million Dorset estate. Her grandfather was an equerry to King George VI while her father, Napier Marten, was a page to the late Queen.
When Constance Marten and Mark Gordon disappeared from London in early January their baby had not yet been born. Pictured: Marten with another child
At the age of 21 Marten was featured as society magazine Tatler’s ‘Babe of the Month’. Her mother Virginie was married to Guy de Selliers, who later wed the sister of John Bryan, the American financial adviser who was famously pictured sucking the toe of the Duchess of York in 1992.
Gordon, by contrast, was raised in Birmingham, the youngest of seven children born to nurse Sylvia, who came to Britain from Jamaica as part of the Windrush generation. When Gordon was 11, the family moved to America.
‘My mum bought a house in Hollywood, Florida, and everything was good and we thought we were going to have a great life there,’ Gordon’s 52-year-old sister, who asked not to be named, told the Mail.
Later returning to Britain and settling in London, he met Marten in unknown circumstances in 2016. Friends say by then she was a ‘changed’ character, having been left traumatised by six months spent at a cult-like Nigerian church where ‘disciples’ were allegedly abused by a self-proclaimed prophet.
Her father described the experience as being a ‘trigger in so much of what has happened to harm Constance in recent years, setting up a pattern of behaviour exposing her to easy manipulation’. The unlikely couple cut off contact with friends and family, and led an ‘insular’ life in which police said the ‘affluent, normal, social aspects’ of Marten’s existence came to an abrupt halt.
Largely funded by a trust fund in her name, they moved from property to property.
In September 2022 they were evicted from a flat in London for non-payment of rent and switched between Airbnb properties.
Where they were heading when their car broke down in January is unclear, but following its discovery police immediately appealed for Marten to come forward.
A taxi tour of the country by the couple followed, first to Liverpool and then to Colchester in Essex, where they used fake names to book a hotel room. They were then spotted at the port of Harwich where ferries leave for Holland. One theory was that they might have been trying to travel abroad. But in fact neither Marten nor Gordon had passports. By the Saturday evening they were on the Whitechapel Road in east London, having travelled there in another taxi.
Gordon went into an Argos where he bought a blue two-person tent, two sleeping bags and two pillows. Another taxi took them to Haringey in north London and then, in the early hours of Sunday morning, to Newhaven in East Sussex. That trip cost them £460, with their total taxi bill coming to around £1,500. Police believe that before going on the run, Marten had amassed a cash fund of between £5,000 and £15,000.
Dropped outside Newhaven port shortly before 5am on January 8, they sheltered in an underpass before being seen for the final time walking out of the town towards the South Downs National Park. The moment was captured on nearby CCTV. That footage would not be found by police for weeks but, despite the delay, officers mounted a widespread ground search of the area. They also used drones, including some carrying thermal imaging equipment to pick up any concealed camp. But no sign of the missing trio was found.
The couple’s discovery in Brighton, ten miles away, suggests they may have remained in the area ever since. But precisely where they were staying is unclear.
Mr Basford said yesterday: ‘It is a vast area and at present we are looking in the local vicinity to where the couple were arrested last night, seeking a shelter or location where they may have been holed up and hopefully where the baby is present.
‘The arrest location was close to open land and the couple were moving towards that land. And that’s why we are focusing heavily on where we are right now. We know that they travel – we know they travel long distances.’
Detained: Mark Gordon was last night being questioned by police
Police have not ruled out the possibility that they camped for some time, despite freezing temperatures. They may also have found shelter in a shed or barn, hence the request for the public to check outbuildings.
Another theory being considered by police is that they were being helped by a third party. While detectives were able to rule out any contact between the couple and friends and family – from whom they were estranged – it was thought that an ‘anti-police’ or ‘anti-establishment’ individual might have been persuaded to help them or provide them with accommodation in exchange for cash.
It was for this reason that Scotland Yard put up a £10,000 reward.
What also became clear during the investigation was that the pair were unlikely to be caught by conventional police tactics.
Marten was described by Mr Basford as a ‘very intelligent’ person while other experts said Gordon’s experiences would have left him ‘hyper aware’.
Police were able to establish that when they went on the run they had a number of phones, in and out of which they swapped SIM cards. Taxi drivers who ferried them around described them as being ‘paranoid’, requesting to know if their vehicles had interior cameras and suddenly changing where they wanted to be dropped off.
The couple’s bank accounts were also continually monitored in case they attempted to access them.
By last week the trail had gone cold with Scotland Yard admitting they could be ‘anywhere’ in the country. In the end the breakthrough came thanks to an eagle-eyed member of the public who spotted the pair near a convenience store on the outskirts of Brighton, leading to their arrest.
That moment should have marked the end of this sorry saga.
But, with no sign of their baby, the search has never been more urgent.