Constance Marten: runaway aristocrat arrested

Heiress and boyfriend in police custody after 54-day search but hunt continues for missing babyr

Constance Marten and her partner
Constance Marten and Mark Gordon pictured in east London on 7 January
(Image credit: Police Handout)

Runaway aristocrat Constance Marten and her partner are finally in police custody after 54 days on the run, but concern is growing over the whereabouts of their newborn baby.

The 35-year-old heiress, her boyfriend Mark Gordon and child were reported missing after “abandoning their burning broken down car on foot” off the M61 near Bolton on 5 January, reported the Daily Mail.

They have since been spotted in east London after using “cash to pay for taxis and stay under fake names in hotels as they travelled to Liverpool, Harwich and Colchester”, said The Telegraph.

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Sky News reported that authorities “believed the couple had been sleeping rough in a blue tent, and had avoided being traced by the police by moving around frequently and keeping their faces covered in CCTV images”.

Ignoring pleas from her family to contact them, Sussex police said the couple had been seen in Brighton on Monday evening by a member of the public and had been arrested on suspicion of child neglect.

Their baby is still missing, however, and an urgent search operation is under way in the area, police said.

The Independent reported that police are “drawing up a strategy for searching a vast area where the couple are feared to have abandoned their child”.

Sky correspondent Sabah Choudhry reported there were between 10 and 15 officers searching the Roedale Valley allotments in Brighton. Members of the public have been urged to be "vigilant" in areas of open land and around any outbuildings they may have on their property.

Who is Constance Marten?

Marten, known as “Toots”, comes from a “landed family with links to the royals”, said The Sunday Times. She is the granddaughter of Mary Anna Marten, once “a playmate of Princess Margaret” and goddaughter to the late Queen Mother, while her father, Napier Marten, was a page to Queen Elizabeth and heir to the family’s £115m fortune.

She grew up in the “sweeping corridors, drawing rooms and 5,000-acre parkland” of Crichel House in Dorset but seemingly “turned her back on champagne parties and holidays at ski resorts”, said the paper, after meeting Gordon, 13 years her senior. Instead the pair lived “reclusively” in a number of “terraced homes and rundown flats” on the outskirts of London and were “repeatedly evicted by landlords”, the paper added.

Until her estrangement from her family, Marten had been considered an “It” girl, said the paper, and was named Tatler’s “Babe of the Month” in 2008. She told the society magazine that the best party she had ever been to was a “debauched” “Feast of Bacchus” at the home of Viscount Cranbourne in Dorset.

She studied Arabic and Middle Eastern studies at Leeds University before completing an NCTJ qualification in journalism, and later enrolled at the renowned East 15 drama school in Essex. Described by friends as “a very good actress” who “could have gone very far”, she dropped out in 2016 after what The Sunday Times described as a “run-in” with one of the course tutors.

Who is Mark Gordon?

In comparison to Marten, “much less is known about Gordon’s life”, said the Evening Standard.

The 48-year-old was born in Birmingham but moved to Florida with his family when he was a child. He was jailed in March 1990 for raping a woman in her 20s when he was just 14. According to The Telegraph he served 20 years in prison in the US for rape and burglary with a weapon and is a registered sex offender. After his release, he was deported back to the UK, and is believed to have met Marten in 2016.

Their relationship was said to be the cause of Marten’s estrangement with her family. It is thought the couple have “amassed a substantial cash fund to help them evade detection”, said The Telegraph.

What has the Marten family’s response been?

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Marten’s father, Napier, said: “It is an immense relief to know my beloved daughter Constance has been found, tempered by the very alarming news her baby has yet to be found.”

He had previously told the newspaper that the family had lived in “great concern”, knowing about Gordon’s rape conviction for some time. In a direct appeal to his daughter, he said: “The past eight years have been beyond painful for all the family as well as your friends, as they must have been for you. And to see you so vulnerable again is testing in the extreme.”

Napier Marten “performed a disappearing act of his own almost two decades ago”, said the Evening Standard. He once revealed to The Sunday Times that he had “renounced his £115m inheritance for a life of whale-watching, spiritual discovery and tree surgery”.

He had come to a point “where everything in my life materially was a completely empty shell” and a voice told him to “shave my head and go to Australia”. However, he said he had the “agreement of his family” to “go Down Under”, said the Standard. “Perhaps that is where his and his daughter’s stories differ.”

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.