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The ‘high pitched’ cries of a baby were heard during a stormy night on the South Downs at about the time a fugitive couple were allegedly living off grid with their newborn daughter, a court heard today.
The couple allegedly 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.
They were arrested in East Sussex on February 27 last year and, days later, Victoria’s body was found in a Lidl supermarket bag covered in rubbish in a disused shed.
Today, Seaford resident Sarah Hidden said she heard a baby crying in the middle of the night on two consecutive nights last January.
Days later, she was out walking her dog on a coastal path when she thought she saw the fugitive couple 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 it happened there was a storm and the weather was windy and rainy, she said.
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.
Mrs Hidden said: ‘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’.
She said it was ‘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.
‘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 said.
Mrs Hidden told jurors she thought they were the missing people she had seen on the news and did a ‘double take’.
At the time, she thought they were in the north of England and only later decided to contact police after learning there had been sightings in Newhaven in East Sussex.
Mrs Hidden told jurors the woman ‘did not look happy’ or as if she was part of the rambler group.
She said: ‘She looked really depressed and worn in on herself and down.’
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.’
Last week, Pauline Mason told jurors that she had seen a man with a woman carrying a lifeless baby in a sling in Stanmer Park in Brighton on February 19.
Mrs Mason, who had been in a mobility scooter, had described the baby being very pale with her head ‘wobbling’, ‘floppy’ and ‘unsteady’.
On Monday, her husband of 55 years told jurors that she had insisted on telling police about the alleged sighting because she had failed to make a report about the Babes in the Wood murders of two girls in Brighton years before.
Michael Mason said his wife had reminded him about seeing a tent during their outing to Stanmer Park.
The retired prison officer told jurors that he made an online report to police last March 1 at his wife’s request.
He told jurors: ‘You might cast your mind back to the Babes in the Wood murders. She was convinced she saw you-know-who and the two young girls.
‘She saw them and she did not report it. If she had reported it, it might have gone differently.
‘This time, she said we must report it. I did report as I remembered it and as she told me.’
He added: ‘To be honest, my wife was more observant than me because she is a keen photographer and I think women are more observant than the average man, I might be wrong there.’
Under cross-examination, Mr Mason was asked why his wife had not taken pictures of what she had seen that day.
The witness said that as a member of a camera club, taking pictures of people close up was a ‘bit of a no-no’.
The defendants, of no fixed address, 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.
The trial continues.