Police have said the baby of Constance Marten and Mark Gordon “many have been dead for some time” after it was discovered in a wooded area in Brighton on Wednesday evening.

Giving an update on the case during a press conference on Thursday, Detective Superintendent Lewis Basford said: “At this stage we have not yet been able to confirm the baby’s gender and post-mortem examination has not yet taken place.

“Despite this, based on our inquiries we’ve carried out so far, we believe sadly the baby may have been dead for some time before they were found.

“It is too early for us to provide a more specific date.

“Because we believe the death occurred during the course of a missing person investigation we have made a mandatory referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). This is standard protocol for such circumstances.”

The baby’s body was discovered on Wednesday after a 48-hour search by hundreds of police officers and volunteers in Brighton.

Ms Marten and Mr Gordon have been arrested on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter.

The pair had been missing for 53 days when they were spotted by a member of the public in Brighton and arrested by police. Their child was not with them at the time.

The pair, who did not provide any information about the whereabouts of the baby, were initially arrested on suspicion of child neglect. However they were later re-arrested on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter.

Concerns were first raised for the welfare of the couple and their baby when their car was found abandoned and set on fire near Bolton, Greater Manchester on 5 January. Ms Marten had “very recently given birth” but neither she nor the baby had received medical treatment, a police appeal said at the time.

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In the days and weeks after their disappearance, they are believed to have been travelling across the country, at one point camping out in open areas in a blue two-man tent bought from an Argos in east London.

Ms Marten and Mr Marten were first sighted in Newhaven, East Sussex, on 8 January – but it was not until the early hours of this Monday (27 February) that police were able to track down the couple, after a member of the public recognised them withdrawing cash outside a Brighton corner shop and dialled 999.

Hundreds of officers from the Met and Sussex Police were involved in the search for Ms Marten and Mr Gordon’s baby, which covered an area of around 90-square miles and involved sniffer dogs, drones and thermal cameras.

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