‘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

Glamorgan Gazette - - Front Page - ANNA LEWIS anna.lewis@waleson­line.co.uk

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.”

PE­TER BOLTER

So­nia Oat­ley, whose daugh­ter Re­becca was mur­dered

Re­becca Ayl­ward

Re­bMeuc­cr­daeOreartlJeyoshua Davies

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