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‘Silent’ twins with their own secret language locked up for 12 years in Broadmoor

‘Silent twins’ who shared an unbreakable relationship endured 12 years locked inside the UK’s most notorious psychiatric hospital.

June and Jennifer Gibbson took a vow of silence to the rest of the world, creating their own secret language to communicate with one another, reports Yorkshire Live.

Journalist and mental health campaigner Marjorie Wallace, who worked with the duo, 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.”


Not even their parents could talk to them and after a turbulent childhood that saw them move around and bullied, they went on a crime spree.

After their court trial, the sisters spent 12 years in Broadmoor Hospital.

Jennifer wrote in her diary: “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?”

While being transferred to a medium-security unit closer to home years later, Jennifer died of an undiagnosed heart condition.

The twins had been previously heard talking about the fact one had to die so the other could be free.

The story of the “silent twins” inspired the Manic Street Preachers

song Tsumani on their album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours.

Their extraordinary lives, reported by Wales Online, details how two little innocent kids from a loving military family went on to endure more than a decade in the UK’s most notorious psychiatric hospital.

Natasha Gordon playing Jennifer in a theatre show about the twin's life, Demi Oyediran played June.
Natasha Gordon (Jennifer) and Demi Oyediran (June) playing the sisters in a 2011 play called Speechless.

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

Aubrey joined the RAF and was soon posted overseas.

Their first taste of life in the UK was in the small village of Linton in West Yorkshire.

To people in the village who knew them, the twins seemed to be happy young girls, though 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.

However, 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.

Front cover of journalist and mental health campaigner Marjorie Wallace.
The twin’s life was turned into a novel by journalist and mental health campaigner Marjorie Wallace.

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 twins, 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.

In 1976, 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 stopping to move altogether – she would on occasions just lie in bed at the residential centre.

After the experiment 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.

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 self-published.”

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 red-handed 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 that 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 apparently voracious readers consuming works by DH Lawrence, Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas, Emily Bronte, Mary Shelley and many more.

They made a number of attempts to gain their release over the years – even apparently writing to the Queen on occasion – but their applications were always rejected.

More than a decade would pass inside the secure hospital, and in later years the pair did apparently begin to talk a little to hospital staff.

An entry in Jennifer’s diary reads: “What a senseless degrading havoc I have made of my poor sweet human life.”

However despite their copious diary entries, they were heavily medicated at Broadmoor and their creative writing – their poetry and short story writing – dwindled.

Eventually, in 1993 the decision was taken to move them to a medium-security unit closer to home – the Caswell Clinic at Glanrhyd Hospital in Bridgend.

On the morning of March 9, they boarded a van from Berkshire but on arrival, Jennifer was noted to be physically weak and unwell.

She was rushed to the Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, but died at 6.30pm that evening.

A post-mortem examination revealed an undiagnosed myocarditis, inflamation of the heart. She was 29 years old.

June remained at the Caswell for a year following her sister’s death before returning to West Wales where she tried to rebuild her life.

Wallace believes that, during their stay in hospital, they began to believe that in order for one of them to be free the other must die.

She wrote that when she had interviewed them in Broadmoor, Jennifer calmly stated that she had decided to die so that June could live a normal life.

She said: “I don’t think there is really an explanation for that except Jennifer willing herself to die. After I learned about Jennifer’s death – it was about two or three days later – I went down to visit June.

“And I found her surprisingly intact, really, and very prepared to talk. She spoke very clearly about the conflict between her terrible grief at losing the person closest in her life and her – the freedom that Jennifer had given her.”

Jennifer is now buried under a headstone engraved with a poem written by June. It reads: ‘We once were two/We two made one/We no more two/Through life be one/Rest in peace.’

The story of the “silent twins” would later inspire the Manic Street Preachers song Tsumani on their album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours.

The words of the opening verse read: “For you my dear sister. Holding onto me forever. Disco dancing with the rapists. Your only crime is silence.”



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