LOCKED UP WOULDN’T

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - JA­SON EVANS Re­porter ja­[email protected]­line.co.uk

ABOND be­tween twins in a spe­cial one – but the one be­tween June and Jen­nifer Gib­bons must surely be one like few oth­ers. To the out­side world they were silent. Mys­te­ri­ous.

They com­mu­ni­cated only with each other – ex­clud­ing even their par­ents and sib­lings – and in lat­ter years wrote a huge amount of words in di­ary en­tries, nov­els and po­ems in their Pem­brokeshire bed­room. They were smart and re­li­gious. And they spent their 20s locked away in Broad­moor high se­cu­rity hos­pi­tal.

The ex­traor­di­nary story of the twins in­spired a Manic Street Preach­ers song, and raises some dif­fi­cult ques­tions about how they were treated by the au­thor­i­ties.

The twins’ par­ents, Aubrey and Glo­ria Gib­bons, came to Bri­tain from Bar­ba­dos in the early 1960s, part of the Win­drush gen­er­a­tion.

Aubrey joined the RAF and was soon posted over­seas – it was in a mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal in the Bri­tish colony of Aden that the twins were born on April 11, 1963.

Two cute lit­tle kids, part of a mil­i­tary fam­ily.

Surely no-one could have fore­seen how their lives would de­velop, for it is more like one of the works of imag­i­na­tion and fic­tion the pair would go one to read and write than a real-life tale.

Later that year the fam­ily re­turned to the UK, and moved to the RAF base in Lin­ton, York­shire.

The twins seemed to be happy, though they were late talk­ers.

They were de­scribed as be­ing “in­sep­a­ra­ble” – not per­haps un­usual in twins – and were noted by teach­ers as only talk­ing to each other, and to their dolls.

But grad­u­ally they be­gan with­draw­ing from their fam­ily too, ap­par­ently form­ing an ever-deeper bond with each other which saw them com­mu­ni­cat­ing in a “se­cret lan­guage” no one else could un­der­stand.

When they were eight the fam­ily moved to Devon af­ter their dad was posted to RAF Chivenor. The twins were said to have been bul­lied at school and re­sponded by be­com­ing ever more in­su­lar.

Then in 1974, when the girls were aged 11, their fa­ther was trans­ferred to an RAF base in Pem­brokeshire, and the fam­ily moved to the Furzy Park hous­ing es­tate in Haver­ford­west.

The girls at­tended Haver­ford­west County Se­condary School with their older brother, David, but it was not a happy time for them.

Black twins were an un­usual sight in West Wales in the 1970s and by all ac­counts the school en­vi­ron­ment was a tough one for the girls, with bul­ly­ing and taunt­ing seem­ingly com­mon­place.

At school they re­fused to read or write, and over time they ex­cluded ev­ery­one – in­clud­ing their par­ents – from their silent world.

Yet seem­ingly no­body took the time or the trou­ble to find out what was hap­pen­ing.

That changed in 1976 when a medic ar­rived at the school to give the pupils their TB jabs. Cu­ri­ous at the twins’ im­pas­sive re­ac­tion to the in­jec­tions, he con­tacted a child psy­chi­a­trist.

This was to be the start of the twins’ in­ter­ac­tion with the au­thor­i­ties that would even­tu­ally see them spend a decade in Bri­tain’s most in­fa­mous se­cure hos­pi­tal.

From the psy­chi­a­trist, they went to see a speech ther­a­pist at Withy­bush Hos­pi­tal. Though they rarely spoke to any­one save their sib­ling, the ther­a­pist was able to record them speak­ing and worked out their “se­cret lan­guage” was a mix­ture of Bar­ba­dian slang and English, spo­ken very quickly.

It was de­cided that the girls should be trans­ferred to the East­gate Cen­tre for Spe­cial Ed­u­ca­tion in Pem­broke. But it seemed they fared lit­tle bet­ter than at their pre­vi­ous school, re­main­ing silent dur­ing ther­apy ses­sions.

In 1977, the de­ci­sion was taken to try sep­a­rat­ing them to see if that would make them open up. June was sent to St David’s Ado­les­cent Unit but re­sponded by ap­par­ently stopped mov­ing all to­gether – she would on oc­ca­sions just lie in bed at the res­i­den­tial cen­tre.

The ex­per­i­ment hav­ing failed, they even­tu­ally re­u­nited at East­gate.

Staff who treated them re­ferred to the re­la­tion­ship as “con­trol­ling” – though it was not clear which one was con­trol­ling the other – and even of one twin “pos­sess­ing” the other. What­ever was the case, no­body seemed to be able to get through to them.

They re­mained silent save with their twin and would often com­mu­ni­cate with each other in the pres­ence of oth­ers sim­ply by eye ges­tures. Their move­ments often mir­rored each other’s.

Jour­nal­ist and men­tal health cam­paigner Mar­jorie Wal­lace, who would later get to know the twins, de­scribed their re­la­tion­ship as a “sin­is­ter child­hood game that got out of con­trol.”

She said: “They had these rit­u­als where they de­cided be­tween them which one would wake first, which one would breathe first, and the other wasn’t al­lowed to breathe un­til the first one breathed. It was like some sin­is­ter child­hood game that got out of con­trol.”

When the girls turned 16 they left school and re­turned home to Haver­ford­west, their ex­traor­di­nary bond seem­ingly as strong as ever but now fac­ing the added dif­fi­cul­ties of ado­les­cence too.

While they re­fused to com­mu­ni­cate with the out­side world, it seemed they poured out their thoughts in the writ­ten word – po­lice would later dis­cover a vast quan­tity of di­aries, es­says, po­ems, short sto­ries and nov­els writ­ten by the girls.

One of June’s books, Pepsi Cola Ad­dict about a stu­dent be­ing se­duced by a teacher, was self­pub­lished.

In one di­ary en­try about the sib­lings’ re­la­tion­ship Jen­nifer wrote: “We have be­come fa­tal en­e­mies in each other’s eyes.

“We feel the ir­ri­tat­ing deadly rays come out of our bod­ies, sting­ing each other’s skin. I say to my­self, can I get rid of my own shadow – im­pos­si­ble or not pos­si­ble?

“With­out my shadow, would I die? With­out my shadow, would I gain life, be free or left to die? With­out my shadow, which I iden­tify with a face of mis­ery, de­cep­tion, mur­der.”

In the sum­mer of 1981 it ap­pears they dis­cov­ered al­co­hol, drugs, and boys – less than a year later they would be locked up in a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal.

Af­ter years of turn­ing away from the world, in late Oc­to­ber 1981 they sud­denly pro­jected them­selves out­wards, and went on a five-week spree of van­dal­ism, bur­glary, thefts and ar­son in Haver­ford­west which ended when they were caught try­ing to burn down Pem­brokeshire Tech­ni­cal Col­lege.

The twins sub­se­quently pleaded guilty to 16 counts of bur­glary, theft, and ar­son at Swansea Crown Court, and in May 1982 were sen­tenced un­der the Men­tal Health Act to in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion at Broad­moor.

Jour­nal­ist Miss Wal­lace would later say of the court case: “The un­emo­tional le­gal pan­tomime went on around them with­out touch­ing them.”

She would later write a book about the girls called The Silent Twins.

While on re­mand and then serv­ing their sen­tence at Broad­moor, the twins con­tin­ued to write co­pi­ous di­aries in prison note­books.

In one en­try Jen­nifer wrote an en­try which showed the com­plex­ity of the pair’s re­la­tion­ship.

She wrote: “I re­ally aim to be alone. Yet, I am de­ceiv­ing my­self. Can I stand be­ing alone? My heart does not beat so fast now. It only beats fast when J is around.”

As well as pro­lific writ­ers they were also vo­ra­cious read­ers, con­sum­ing works by DH Lawrence, Os­car Wilde, Dy­lan Thomas, Emily Bronte, Mary Shel­ley and oth­ers.

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