Love-hate relationship hid them from world: Heather Mills reports on the bizarre lives of the two women who poured out their emotions in prose and inspired an opera, a film and a book

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The Independent Online
'I HAVE at long last conquered my fear of death and now I am no longer a baby but a WOMAN. I can see, oh yes Lord, now I can see,' Jennifer Gibbons wrote in her diary only weeks before her death.

In the same way that their lives remained enigmatic, so, too, has the death of one of the sisters who became known as the 'silent twins'.

Yesterday's inquest into Jennifer's death shone little light into the gloomy cocoon she and her twin, June, had wrapped protectively around themselves for most of their 29 years - a self-imposed silent isolation starting in childhood and re- inforced by 11 years locked away from society in Broadmoor following a spree of burglary and arson.

After yesterday's verdict, perhaps Jennifer's diary entry above, written shortly before she died, gives as good an insight into their mysterious world as any obtained by years of study by the professionals.

Labelled 'elective mutes' many years ago, and recently as 'schizophrenics', the twins themselves had long ago decided on the cause of their mutual torment - each other.

Unable to vocalise their feelings, they poured them out in prolific prose and poignant poetry. June once wrote: 'I awoke from my unconsciousness to the sound of her perception: Her perception made mine ten times as sharp. My mood. Her mood. Clash. Like spilled blood. My perception. Her perception. Twisting and clashing, knowing, cunning, sly . . . And where will it all end? In death? In separation? I cannot help it. She cannot help it. It comes over us like a vague mist.'

In her book, Silent Twins, Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of Sane, the mental health charity, says the sisters emerged as 'two human beings who love and hate each other with such intensity that they can neither live together nor apart'.

She remains convinced the twins believed that neither would achieve real freedom until the other had died. She said that they always had a morbid fascination, but during their last three months they had become obsessed with the talk of who should die first. Perhaps Jennifer had the stronger will or an awareness of her fate. Her last prophetic poem, given to Ms Wallace read:

That too was our laughing.

That too was our smiling.

Now I am dead.

And that too is our crying.

For the first three or four years of their lives the twins appeared normal, healthy girls, if a bit slow with their speech. But they were soon to adopt some kind of vow of silence rejecting the world, their parents and their three brothers and sisters.

Attempts to break through were met with blank, wooden expressions and they went about their lives at a strange synchronised pace. Their mother, Gloria, was heart-broken when she opened one of their parcels. It was a booklet called The Art of Conversation.

June and Jennifer were sent to Broadmoor after admitting burglary and arson. Ms Wallace says they should never have been sent to a hospital for the criminally insane.

Life there was not spartan, there were parties, classes, sports - the girls even fell in and out of love. But Ms Wallace said that while distractions improved their social behaviour, they and the drugs did little to 'touch their inner troubles'.

Shortly before she was due to leave Broadmoor, Jennifer confided to Ms Wallace that she was going to die. 'I just know. I just know,' she said. The moment the twins were through the gates, she had slumped on to her sister's shoulder, saying: 'At long last we're out.'

Ms Wallace believes the thought of freedom resurrected all their old birthright battles and their strange obsession with death. June told her: 'The trouble was that Jennifer was making me mentally ill, and I was driving Jennifer insane.' June wrote in 1982: 'Without my shadow would I die? Without my shadow would I gain life? Be free or left to die? The answer seems to be freedom.'

Yesterday June appeared bright and healthy. Ms Wallace said: 'I have to say she is getting stronger all the time. She is determined to live for both of them.'

In June's own words: 'At long last I am all June and not part of Jennifer. Somebody had to break the vicious circle. We were war weary; it had been a long battle. We were each a burden to each other.'

(Photograph omitted)