Runaway aristocrat Constance Marten was allegedly ‘groomed’ by the leader of a Nigerian sect as a teenager, it is being reported.
The 35-year-old, who has been charged with manslaughter of her baby ‘Victoria’ by way of gross neglect along with her lover Mark Gordon, spent six months in a compound near the country’s capital of Lagos as a teen.
While there it is thought she was forced to stay in a dormitory of 50 girls who were watched over by armed guards, starved, woken for biblical readings and made to call the leader ‘daddy’.
One ex-partner said her time there had left her traumatised, while a former member of the same cult revealed she would have been forced to take part in ‘intense’ work while on the compound.
Marten and Gordon currently remain in custody after a seven-week manhunt for them and their child came to an end last week, ahead of a hearing at the Old Bailey later this month about their involvement in Victoria’s death.
Marten, who grew up on a £100million estate in Dorset and whose grandmother was goddaughter of the late Queen Mother, is believed to have travelled to Nigeria when she was in her teens.
In Lagos she joined the Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN), a Christian sect led by televangelist Temitope Balogun Joshua, more popularly known as TB Joshua.
Joe Hurst, a former British soldier who joined the group but left before Marten arrived in 2006, said she spoke to him years later to say she and other white people at the compound were humiliated by the controversial pastor.
Speaking to The Independent, Mr. Hurst said she claimed she had been forced to eat Joshua’s leftovers and had been placed in social exile – a punishment given to members who were not ‘focused enough’ on the pastor or who spoke about their lives before entering the compound.
He added that when speaking about what happened in the compound, she asked: ‘How could God allow this to happen to us?’
Matthew McNaught, author of a book about the megachurch, said she had contacted him several years later as she was ‘trying to get her head around what happened to her’, adding: ‘she was confused and traumatised’.
The church has been involved in a number of controversies, with fellow other Nigerian pastors calling Joshua, who died in 2021 at the age of 57, an ‘imposter’.
In April 2021 YouTube suspended his channel, Emmanuel TV, after he claimed homosexuality was the result of possession by demonic spirits.
Marten’s ex-partner Francis Agolo, 44, was quoted by The Sun as saying the experience in Nigeria seemed to have been ‘traumatic’ for her, adding: ‘She [Marten] would clam up when talking about her time there.’
He added: ‘When I knew Constance, she was caring and loving. It seems very out of character.’
Marten had previously opened up about the experience in an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine, in which she revealed she was one of 50 girls who shared a dormitory in a religious cult.
She added: ‘The leader looked me in the eye and said, “Your family doesn’t matter anymore. I’m your father now.”‘
Marten and Gordon, 48, have been charged with manslaughter by way of gross neglect, concealing the birth of a child and perverting the course of justice after ‘Victoria’ was found in a shed in Brighton on Wednesday.
A hearing before magistrates in Crawley on Friday was told the girl was found wrapped in a plastic bag and buried under a pile of nappies in an allotment.
It was a tragic conclusion to a 53-day nationwide search for the couple, who went missing in January, sparking concern for their welfare and that of the child.
The aristocrat was seen smiling and blowing a kiss at Gordon in front of a packed courtroom hearing, during which they spoke only to confirm their names, dates of birth and that they were of no fixed abode.
Jeremy King, prosecuting, told Court 1 in Crawley Magistrates’: ‘It was on Jan 5 this year a placenta was discovered in an abandoned motor vehicle with Miss Marten’s passport next to it. Miss Marten had been in a relationship with Mr Gordon since 2015.’
He said a missing person campaign was launched.
Mr. King said the couple had been travelling around the country by using taxis and staying in hotels. In Whitechapel they were spotted buying camping equipment and were last seen in Newhaven on CCTV close to the ferry.
Mr King said: ‘Initially they refused to answer any questions by the police. An extensive search was carried out in an overgrown allotment plot.
‘Inside a locked shed, wrapped in plastic bag under nappies the baby was found inside. Life was pronounced extinct.’
The magistrates in Crawley were told the court case was going to be transferred to the Central Criminal Court in London.
Lewes Power KQ , defending for Marten, said that while there would be no application for bail on behalf of Marten today but he was ‘putting the court on notice’ there would be one at a future date.
Marten and Gordon had been arrested by police in the Hollingbury area of Brighton on Monday night, after they were spotted earlier in the day by a member of the public.
It brought to an end a nationwide police hunt that began when they fled seven weeks ago with their baby – but when they were found by police the child was nowhere to be seen,
However, the couple were without their baby newborn when officers swooped in to arrest them.
Detectives from Sussex and the Metropolitan Police launched a huge search of an public allotments close to where they were arrested.
Search teams with sniffer dogs, drones, helicopters and officers using heat-seeking equipment struggled to find the body.
They alerted police who immediately swooped on an area of woodland and allotments not yet searched by officers.
At a press conference Detective Superintendent Lewis Basford of the Met Police said it was clear the baby’s remains had been there for ‘several weeks’.
Marten and Gordon are set to appear before the Old Bailey on March 31.