The Silent Twins by Marjorie Wallace

by Lily Wren

The Silent Twins by Marjorie Wallace
Category: Non-fiction, Biography

The Silent Twins is about identical twins June and Jennifer Gibbons. They were born in Barbados on 11th April 1963 but grew up in Wales where the family moved shortly after their birth. They spent most of their lives living in their own impenetrable world. June and Jennifer knew what each other felt and thought but they were silent to most people outside of their world, despite having the physical ability to speak. The twins confounded teachers, speech therapist, specialist educational schools and psychologists who crossed their paths. However, a battle raged between the two girls who loved, controlled and hated each other in equal measures.

The author pulls together the story of their experiences through meeting with the twins, their family and countless professionals who were involved in their care and also in using accounts from their diaries. The twins were, at one point, very prolific writers both in diary form and in fiction. Wallace is able to put across the differences in personalities between the twins and also the emotional battles of control and power they had with each other.

The girls started to experiment with drink, drugs, bad boys and petty crime in their mid-teens and were eventually caught and charged with vandalism and arson. Ultimately, this is a a tale about how the mental health and justice system, failed two girls primarily because they had no idea how to support them (and if they did then the appropriate resources were not in place).

The girls spent a year in prison on remand awaiting their trial. They were finally found guilty and, at the age of 19, were sent to Broadmoor high security psyhicatric hospital for an indefinite period of time. For those not familiar with the name, Broadmoor houses some of the most dangerous offenders, examples including Peter Sutcliffe (Yorksire Ripper), Charles Bronson and Ronald Kray. June and Jennifer ended up here merely by default. There were no secure, hospital facilities around at the time which could take on twin teeagers with such unique behavioural issues. They ended up at Broadmoor which in itself hadn’t really got the appropriate tools for supporting the teenage girls.

Wallace sums up the situation perfectly…

“Jennifer and June could never come to terms with the fact that they had been given what amounted to a life sentence for vandalism and three counts of arson, when other teenages guilty of far more serious crimes, often involving bodily harm, would spend, at most, a few months in prison.” (p.255)

The book gives a fascinating insight into this sad story. Woven throughout the story is the difficultly the twins had both being together and apart. Sadly, they felt that it wouldn’t be until one of them died that the other would truly be ‘free’.

Recommended to those who like to read about sad, gritty, real-life stories.