‘IT HAS CHANGED ME TOTALLY. I’M NOT THE PERSON I ONCE WAS’
MUM OF SCHOOLGIRL ‘MURDERED FOR A BET’ STILL HELPING OTHERS EIGHT YEARS AFTER FAMILY TRAGEDY
IT was a wet autumn day in 2010 when 15-year-old Rebecca Aylward went to the forest to meet her ex-boyfriend.
That morning she had spent hours getting ready, styling her hair and pulling on the outfit she had bought specially the day before to impress Joshua Davies.
Sporting a new red jacket and brown ankle boots, the Bridgend high school pupil stopped to hug her mother and give her a kiss before hopping into her aunt’s car to get a lift.
For Sonia Oatley, it will be a moment she will never forget.
Now, eight years after Rebecca’s death and halfway into her killer’s minimum life imprisonment, the mother has spoken about the incomprehensible actions of the 15-yearold who killed her daughter – seemingly at first for a bet to win himself a cooked breakfast.
“To me, time stopped in 2010 to be honest with you,” said Sonia, now 57.
“If I write the date now, I will write 2010. It has changed me totally as a person, I’m not the person I was.”
As a teenager, Rebecca was a popular and intelligent girl growing up in Bridgend.
Fostering ambitions of becoming a barrister, the teenager, known to family and friends as Becca, had a wide circle of friends – including boyfriend Joshua Davies. As the relationship blossomed, the pair appeared happy. To Sonia, her daughter’s boyfriend appeared like a normal teenager.
“I liked him before it happened, he was okay”, said Sonia, who has two other children. “He was always polite and nice, no bad language. He seemed like a decent boy, we knew all his family – his younger brother was friends with my two younger ones.”
However, looking back, she claims even then there were signs of something more ominous.
Sonia, who moved away from her home in Maesteg after Rebecca’s death, said: “When I think back, if he would stay over I would subconsciously tell Jack to tidy away his toy swords or dressing gown ties. I would take them all into my room but I didn’t have a clue why.
“Once on TV the Ku Klux Klan was on and he said he would love to be one of them. He said he would love to be doing what they are doing. Rebecca just hit him in the ribs and said, ‘What are you saying?’.
“That set off alarm bells. She thought he was joking, but he was very racist.”
“He used to walk around the streets at three in the morning. It was very odd behaviour, but I only found out about that later. If I’d have known, it would have been different.”
In January 2010 Davies left Rebecca for another girl. After overcoming the pain of a broken heart, it was only a matter of time until the high school pupil found another partner herself – only for her exboyfriend to persuade her to end it and meet up with him.
In the court case the following year, it emerged that in the time before the October meet-up the killer had been busy, publishing volumes of hateful material about Rebecca online.
To friends he bragged he was going to poison her with plants like deadly nightshade, or else push her over a quarry or into a river.
“Becca never told me that [it was abusive] but there must have been some controlling element looking back now,” Sonia said.
“In January 2010 he left Becca for another girl. She was absolutely devastated and I hated seeing her so hurt, but in time she started going out with another boy herself – only for Josh to convince her to end it and to meet up with him. She did so almost instantly, thrilled at the thought of their reconciliation.”
As the day of the meet-up wore on, concern started to grow as Rebecca failed to return home. That evening the police were called. At this point Rebecca had last been seen at 12.30pm on Sarn Hill. Sonia would later learn that, after leaving the woods, Davies went back to an aunt’s house, attempting to create a fake alibi on Facebook about “chilling out with friends” while watching Strictly Come Dancing on the TV.
On the same night the teenager sent texts to Rebecca’s phone, knowing she was dead, pleading with her to let people know where she was.
After a night of searching, Rebecca’s body was found at around 9am the following day near the village of Aberkenfig. Two 15-year-old boys were taken in for questioning and an appeal for further witnesses was put out.
Speaking in court the following year, Pc Gemma Tibbott described spotting Rebecca’s body lying face-down from a slightly raised embankment in the woods. She described the teenager as being an “ashen colour”, wearing her new jacket with the hood over her head.
Sonia said: “I wasn’t there when the news came. It was the Sunday morning and the police came to my sister’s house where the family were. We were out in Aberkenfig searching for
her and my sister stayed back with Jack. She rung my brother to tell him to bring Sonia back.”
As the weeks stretched into months after Rebecca’s death, Sonia was faced with the excruciating agony of waiting helplessly for Davies’ trial to begin.
As an important witness, police and prosecutors were unable to divulge more than basic facts, leaving the grieving mother’s mind to fill in the blanks herself and prepare for her daughter’s funeral.
Looking back, Sonia said: “Before the trial I knew nothing at all. They told me what had happened but they couldn’t go into any detail. It was just waiting. You were just left to it, to your own thoughts – there was no information. We had Becca’s birthday in February and we had Christmas, which was a nightmare. I didn’t want to decorate anything, Jack was eight and Jessica was 13 but I couldn’t face it. They decorated, I just helped them with it. I had to do it for them.”
In June 2011, eight months after Rebecca’s death, the trial opened at Swansea Crown Court.
Davies, who had since turned 16, was accused of Rebecca’s murder after bludgeoning her to death with a large rock. With Sonia sitting in court alongside family and friends, the horrifying details of what happened that day began to emerge.
During evidence it was heard that Davies had told a friend he was going into the forest with Rebecca and smiled as he said “the time has come”.
The same friend later phoned Joshua to ask if he was with Rebecca. The defendant replied with two words – “define with”.
After summoning the fellow 16-year-old into the forest, the murderer then told his friend he had hit Rebecca from behind with a rock until she stopped screaming, before discarding the bloody weapon into the undergrowth. His demeanour was described merely as “cool”.
Together the boys went home, in full knowledge that Rebecca’s body lay in the woods behind them. There, they met a third friend and made a round of tea, discussing the day’s events. A Home Office pathologist said Rebecca died from brain injuries caused by “blunt force injury”.
Speaking seven years after the trial, Sonia said: “Sitting in the courtroom, it was all new to me. With the shock of it many times I walked out, but I wanted to stay as much as I could. Certain bits I had to go for, like for the pathology findings. When I went to give evidence I don’t know how long I was up there, but it seems like I was there for hours. I was up there before and after lunch. I had never been in a courtroom before in my life.
“When Davies was a witness I wanted to hear his lies. I knew the instant he went to stand and read the affirmation – as a Catholic you don’t do that. When he didn’t take the oath, I knew he was going to lie.
“I knew he was lying about everything when he blamed the other boy. He had no empathy, he laughed and joked to his defence team – it was just like a day out for him. He didn’t take it seriously, it was unreal.”
Throughout the trial Joshua denied any wrongdoing. Instead, he blamed Rebecca’s murder on his friend and described seeing his friend hit her over the head “six or seven times” with the rock.
According to Sonia, worse still were the witness statements detailing Davies’ obsession with killing his former girlfriend.
As the trial progressed, the jury heard how the teenager’s favourite point of conversation among his friends was the method by which he would murder Rebecca. It emerged that one friend even promised to buy Josh a cooked breakfast if he carried out his threat.
Two days before the murder, Davies text his friend. The message read: “Don’t say anything, but you may just owe me a breakfast”. In court the boy who placed the bet told the jury he thought it was only a joke, and that the defendant “was messing about”.
On July 27, 2011 the jury returned to the courtroom after four days of deliberation. Joshua Thomas Davies was found guilty of murder on a 10-2 majority verdict. Members of Rebecca’s family, sitting in the public gallery, cheered briefly, before re- leasing a statement stating they would “never forgive” Davies for his crime.
During a later sentencing, the 16-year-old was given a life sentence at Swansea Crown Court and told he will serve a minimum of 14 years in prison. As time passes, however, questions remain. Rebecca’s family still don’t know if Davies eventually admitted to his crime.
In the years following Davies’ imprisonment Sonia has poured her energy into campaigning for change following her daughter’s death. Her main passion is advocating greater support for the families of victims once the legal process is over.
As times passes, Rebecca remains a large part of the family’s life, although in a positive way. On her birthday and on special days, the family will visit places the teenager loved, including the coastline at the Gower.
Their family home contains pictures of Rebecca with her mother and two siblings.
“You get to a certain point and you feel like you can’t continue but you learn how to deal with it, you learn how to get through each day”, Sonia said.
“Most days we will talk about her, about one thing or another. It’s usually happy memories, special days we had together and with Jess and Jack, but what’s going through my head is very different, like when I had to go and identify her.
“I get flashbacks to her and those images.”
To help process the deluge of information that emerged during the trial, Sonia began to write a diary talking through what happened.
In 2014, Bye Mam, I Love You was published. The title is based on the last words Rebecca spoke to her mother.
“The book is a diary for me and Jack and Jess. If they need to know anything, it’s there for them,” Sonia said.
Now, four years after the release of the book, Sonia’s diary continues to make an impact. Each week the mother will receive messages from strangers thanking her for her bravery and telling her how her words have made a difference.
She said: “The reaction is non-stop. I often get messages from people saying they couldn’t read it.
“If I can help one young girl or boy in a similar situation in an abusive relationship, then that’s what matters.”
Sonia Oatley, whose daughter Rebecca was murdered