Today we’ll be talking to Ellis McGowan, the psychiatrist who worked with the children in the much-talked about Abbey disaster.
Originally, we hoped and planned to interview Zack and Alex, the two eldest victims of the tragedy, whom have been in your care for the past few months. What is the reason you have turned up in their place?
The situations they’ve been in lately, the things they’ve been through, have made them eager to please but, from getting to know them, I realise that this isn’t what they’d want for themselves; they don’t want to talk about this to anyone they don’t trust. I wouldn’t want them to feel like they had to do something to please me, or anyone else. I gave them a choice, they took the one that felt right to them and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You seem to have gotten to know them quite well in the past few months, something you had mentioned was certainly not going to be easy. Was it truly very difficult for you?
It was difficult for everyone. I felt an unbelievable amount of pressure to make things right for everyone and to do that I needed to be wise in my approach with all the children. Zack and Alex are particularly…mature so even the way I dealt with them had to be different from the way I dealt with the younger ones. That made it difficult for me. I consulted with my wife also; that put pressure on her. It was certainly difficult for them too, of course; they went from holding everything inside themselves like a secret that needed to be protected with their lives and to take them out of that took a lot of effort on their part.
It’s been known for a while that your wife, though unofficially, played quite a big part in all this because you took Zack and Alex into your home. That’s unusual practice, isn’t it?
It was an unusual situation; sometimes unusual situations need to be tackled in some unusual, possibly controversial, ways.
Do you worry about the responses you received due to this decision?
The decision came quickly but not easily; I did it for the benefit of the children. If I wanted to think only of myself I would have let the state put Zack and Alex in another institution before they were ready, away from all the rest, and put my mind at ease that I could go home and take myself away from it all for a few hours. I didn’t; I went straight from work in the hospital where the younger children were to work at home where they were. That meant it was always on my mind and I was always trying to move things in the right direction. Even if I questioned myself at times I still knew I was doing the right thing for them; if other experts believe they could have received the same results in another way then that’s great, they’ll have something to work with if such a tragedy were to arise again.
You ended up taking the two boys in permanently, do you think that decision had anything to do with having taken them into your home?
My eldest, prior to Zack and Alex, was actually adopted so I’ve never been closed off to the thought of adopting again. One way or another this could have happened.
How is the family right now? They’ve gone through quite a lot of changes these past few months.
My eldest was a little apprehensive at first but my wife and I prepared her well; it didn’t take her too long to see the boys as part of the family. My wife…is incredible; she was in the late stages of her pregnancy when this all happened but she really worked hard and took it all in her stride. Alex warmed up to us all quicker than Zack but I think they’re finally grasping that they have family now. It’s a wonderful thing that my youngest will grow up seeing them as older brothers.
And you? How do you feel about all this now, especially now that you have good results?
I…almost don’t know how I feel. I struggled for a while to get the best results for everyone and, though things are far from perfect, now that things have fallen into place I feel good about everything. I think the best part is that it made me realise the strength and love within my family; as long as I have that to support me I feel like I can tackle anything. I love Zack and Alex like my own children, my family too, so I can only hope that they’ll always be aware of the strength and love we have for them so they can also feel like they can tackle anything.