Parents of Joe Cairns, 14, who died at Chorley HGV driver's hands, issue treasured pictures of their boy alongside heartbreaking statement and videos
Andy and Steph Cairns, whose son Joe was killed when HGV driver James Majury ploughed into the school minibus he was travelling in, have shared precious memories of the youngster as his killer begins a jail sentence.
Mum-of-four Steph, who bravely read her statement in court before Majury, said: " Joe was my boy and he was cruelly taken away from us when he died on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 following a road traffic collision.
"In the statement I will discuss Joe’s antecedents and the impact on me and my family of losing him so suddenly.
"Joe was born on November 29, 2004 in Fairfield Hospital, Bury. He was a beautiful, healthy baby boy weighing 10lbs and 10oz. His dad Andy was with me when Joe arrived naturally in to the world and along with our other three children Joe completed our family perfectly. His full name was already decided; Joseph Stephen Ronnie Cairns.
"Stephen was picked because it was my Dad’s name and Ronnie because that was my Grandad’s name. We stayed on the ward for a day I think and I remember having to get different clothes for Joe because none of the new born stuff would fit because he was such a big baby! We gave quite a few bits away.
"After we left hospital we went back to our family home on Ainsowrth Road in Radcliffe. Here we were a happy family and the house was always busy as you would expect with four kids around. Joe was doing really well as a young baby and his general development was very good.
"By the time he was four months he was already trying to move around in an attempt to get after his brother and sisters. It was probably around this time and the following months when I noticed Joe was different from my other three. I can’t describe exactly how but there was just something different and not quite right but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
"Regardless of my thoughts Joe was in to everything and I started taking Joe to Betts which was like a nursery/play group. Joe loved it and I could see it was helping with his development. He loved being busy and we made regular trips to the park and also swimming. I taught Joe to swim and he got really good at it. I always thought this was important for him even as a baby.
"We were always busy and Joe was always a huge part of any activities we planned. Regular visits to Heaton Park were a favourite and we’d take a picnic. We didn’t have a lot of money so anything free was a bonus for us and we would just make the most of it and enjoy ourselves. All of the kids loved it.
"Every Sunday we used to watch a DVD. It was like a tradition. If it was down to Joe it would usually be a Marvel film because Joe loved all of that stuff. He used to love watching cartoons like Fireman Sam, Postman Pat, Scooby Doo and Ben 10, he loved Ben 10.
"At around four years old Joe went to Gorsfield Nursery. He continued in to the mainstream schooling system and although he was generally doing okay, it was apparent that he always seemed to need a bit of extra support to get by. There were times when he’d play on his own and every now and again he’d have these meltdowns. It was clear there was something not quite right but I was struggling to get to the bottom of it. It got to the point where Joe was segregated to help him and he had his own room which was down to the fact he was really struggling with the mainstream schooling.
" Due to this both I and Andy were getting concerned about Joe and his education. It was clear something wasn’t right with him and we just wanted him to have the same opportunities as the other kids so we were crying out for help. At some point between the ages of 5 and 7 years, some health professionals diagnosed Joe as being on the Autism scale. They also identified he had ADHD along with some sensory issues.
"Although it was tough to hear and I was particularly upset when we were told, we finally had some answers as to why Joe was different and now we knew what the issues were we could look to handle them in a way which would benefit Joe. Andy and I were determined to do our best for Joe. In some respects we were lucky because Joe was physically fit and never suffered from any illnesses as such. Just the usual childhood stuff such as chicken pox.
"I have to say we were left with the feeling that in general people didn’t really know much about Autism and how to best deal with the symptoms of it. I just made sure I was there 24/7 for Joe so that he knew he was loved and supported. Joe of course was too young to understand it and I knew there were times when he was getting frustrated, especially at school. Some of the teachers understood better than others and I found myself at Joe’s school quite a bit along with Andy. As I’ve already said Joe was struggling with the mainstream and after a lot of talking and effort by us we finally managed to get Joe in to Westmoreland School in Chorley.
"Westmoreland was a specialist education school for kids such as Joe with issues. Joe thanked us in his own special way by trashing the head teacher’s office simply because he didn’t want to go there!
"Eventually Joe settled at Westmoreland which we were really happy with. It was better for him to be there because it meant he would get the extra support he required in order to do well and he did start to do really well. They had a sensory garden and a computer club which Joe really enjoyed. Joe loves Pugs and he would spend loads of time typing it on the computer and searching for pictures and videos of them! It was a great environment for him and I’ve still got his work from there. He was very good at using his imagination to create stories which he won loads of medals for. He was also very good at maths although he didn’t like it very much.
"Around 2013 we moved to an address in Radcliffe just outside Bury. We were still all very happy. I had a shop at the time and Joe and the other kids spent many a happy hour with me after school. Joe had a toy box and there was a TV for him to watch a raft of DVD’s and I loved him and the other kids being there to keep me company. They all got on really well which made our lives easier. Whether it was at home, on holiday abroad or caravan parks here they always had a great time. We went to York on one occasion and Joe in particular was excited because we were going to the Police museum where they had a Tardis. Now Joe loved Dr Who. He was a huge fan and watched them all. He always used to get stressed when they changed the Dr because he was worried the next one might not be any good!
"Joe’s interests didn’t end with Dr Who. He loved his superheroes with the Hulk and Spiderman being amongst his favourites. He was quite intense in the way he was about things. If he was in to something he had to know everything and I mean everything there was to know about that person or thing. He liked history and although his reading wasn’t the best he would find out what he wanted to know by using the television or internet. He was like a sponge once he started and his memory was great to a point where he could visualise moments in time.
"Westmorland had been great for Joe but it was time for him to move on to a big school as he got older so we managed to get him in to an excellent school called Pontville in Ormskirk. It was quite a distance from us but Joe would get a bus there along with other kids and there was no doubt in my mind that the school was ideal for Joe. It was when he started going there we met Anne and John. Anne looked after the kids during the journey to and from Pontville and she was great with the kids and very patient with Joe. Joe loved Anne because she was especially great with Joe and in my eyes went above and beyond to do her best for Joe. She could read him really well and handled his behaviour fantastically well. John was the mini bus driver and a lovely man. It was fair to say I trusted Anne and John to look after Joe from the moment I waved him goodbye in the morning.
"Joe settled really well at Pontville. In fact he loved it there. Like Westmoreland it was a specialist school but it was a step up again because the facilities were brilliant. It had an onsite farm which Joe couldn’t get enough of because he had a real affinity with animals. He used to help clear up after them and feed them. The ponies were great for him because their calm, gentle nature always helped to de-stress Joe. He was looking forward to starting an Animal Care Course this year. There was a lot of outdoor education which Joe threw himself in to. Things such as forest care to do with the environment and how to look after forests.
"Joe had a wicked sense of humour. Despite his tender years he was so quick witted and on occasions could be quite wicked with it. I remember an occasion where he was really upset because one of the pigs which he loved so much at Pontville died. So one minute he was upset about it and the next he was joking about the butchers having a lot of bacon to sell! There were times when he was really funny and he’d just make us all laugh so much. That was Joe all over. He made me laugh every day. He was a joy. We had such a special bond. Everything I did was for Joe and it’s fair to say my life revolved around him, he was my special little boy.
"My daily routine always ensured I was back home and ready for Joe coming home at 5pm. I’d always ask if he’d had a good day and this would usually be met with a yes or no but not much else. Once he’d had his tea then he would start talking and not stop! That was Joe; you either get not a lot or a lot! In a similar way he used to tell me I was either ugly or beautiful and that could change from one minute to the next. He did like to tease me but I wouldn’t have changed him for the world. Where possible we went on holidays and Joe loved going to the airport and getting on a plane. It was a big adventure for him!
"Joe liked his food too and there generally wasn’t much he didn’t like. He did have some strange habits which were no doubt as a result of his Autism. He used to hit something ten times or disregard ten of something it he didn’t like it or it wasn’t right. So if he wasn’t happy with Coco pops for example he’d throw ten of them down the back of the settee, or so we realised after he’d died! He was a big fan of chocolate but not of always taking his medication for the ADHD and Autism. The workaround for that was hiding the meds in the chocolate!
"As I’ve already said Joe loved animals and none more so than our dogs Poppy and Coco. He absolutely loved them and he enjoyed walking them and feeding them. He just had this natural affiliation with them. It was no surprise to me that Joe wanted to work with animals as he got older. It was his dream to be a dog walker and have his own business by the sea and walk the dogs on the beach. He was due to start the course I mentioned earlier in January 2019 which would have helped him towards that.
"We were so settled and happy. Things were definitely looking good for my kids and in particular Joe. I’d even had some meetings which my friend Cheryl came to with the idea to try and get some improvements made to the house which would benefit Joe going forward. Things like getting him his own bedroom with a wet room which would have made things better for him. It was all good.
"Joe was also starting to understand his Autism more. We talked regularly and it became a bit of a routine every night where he would tell me whatever was bothering him and we’d discuss it. He was starting to understand other kids on an emotional level too which was starting to help him more with his interaction with them. It was still a nightmare getting him out of bed at 6am in the morning but he probably wasn’t any different from most teenagers in that respect! There was the odd occasion where he’d come in to my bed for comfort and I always treasured those moments with my little boy.
"Looking back to Christmas 2018 I never thought it would be our last Christmas with Joe. It makes me sad and happy in equal measure because we had an absolute ball, it was fantastic. We spent Christmas Eve at my Dad's and as per tradition we had a buffet on Christmas Day and a proper dinner on Boxing Day. It really was the best Christmas ever. I’m certain Joe did too. He was being his usual joking self and was even at a point with his autism where he’d jokingly blame that if he said or did something he knew wasn’t right. That was Joe.
"On January 7, 2019 I gave Joe a retro Nintendo with all the old games like Super Mario. He played on it with Lewis all evening and had a great time. Joe was a little anxious that night because it was just after the holidays and he’d been away from Pontville for that time. He was in my bed and he ended up falling asleep in my arms for what I didn’t realise was going to be the very last time.
"On January 8, 2019 I saw Joe off as I always did. Anne came to the door for him and we talked about Christmas for a few minutes before I walked up to the top of the street to see him on to the mini bus. I remember my last words to him; I said “GET GONE YOU, GET TO SCHOOL, I’LL SEE YOU TONIGHT”. Joe being Joe he stuck his middle finger up at me and that was the last time I saw my boy alive.
"Later that morning I was at home and I’d caught wind that there’d been an accident on the motorway somewhere near Skelmersdale. When you hear these things you don’t initially think much of it but it became apparent the mini bus Joe was on may have been involved and I was starting to get really worried because I’d heard the accident was really bad.
"I was getting more and more anxious as I waited to hear what happened and if Joe was okay. I had this horrible feeling inside because hours were passing and I couldn’t get any information. My Mum, Cheryl, my Dad and the girls were with me and they too were getting really worried. I stood by the window watching for what seemed like hours and waiting for someone to come and tell me my boy was okay.
"Eventually a Policeman came to the door. He said his name was Mark Potter and he was a Family Liaison Officer with the Police. I stood there looking at him and I knew he was going to tell me Joe was dead. That’s exactly what he said and I just broke down. I felt numb and I didn’t want to believe it but I knew in my heart it was true. The feeling was the worst thing I’ve ever felt. My entire world had just collapsed because my boy, my little boy was dead.
"Mark talked to us for a bit but it was so hard to take everything in. He needed us to go to the mortuary at Royal Preston Hospital so Joe could formally be identified. Mark took us to Preston and I saw Joe lying there lifeless. It was awful. I wasn’t allowed to touch him and that felt so cruel because he’s my boy and I wanted to hug him. He’d been hurt. I could see his face and eyes were swollen and his shoulder was injured too and all I wanted to do was hug my boy and tell him everything was going to be fine but I couldn’t. It was so hard.
"Over the coming days and weeks things didn’t get any easier. Once Joe was released from the mortuary the funeral directors took him back to Radcliffe and I visited him every day. It was so upsetting to see him but I had to go. I didn’t want him to be alone. I took all his things so he could have them with him. I took his red blanket and some of his soft toys including a Pug which he loved. It was so upsetting seeing him in that room because I couldn’t change anything and I had this feeling of utter helplessness. I started to notice his hands were becoming discoloured and starting to go black which made things even more upsetting. My three brave kids went to see him on the morning of the funeral and that was so hard for them to see him lying there lifeless. How do you live after that?
"The days, weeks and months which have passed since Joe’s funeral have been unbearable. I miss my little boy so much every minute of every day. I sit thinking there’s no point going on but I know I have to for my three other beautiful children.
"We all miss Joe’s sense of humour. I miss our little chats we would have about all kinds of things. I miss him chatting away to himself when he used to play. I miss hearing him shouting for me from upstairs, I just want to hear his voice again. I want him here so I can look after him and watch him continue to grow and be happy. I feel useless now he’s not here anymore because he was my world and there’s nothing I wouldn’t have done for my boy.
"I sit for hours sometimes and lie in bed unable to sleep just thinking about him. I think about him laughing because it was so infectious and made me smile, it made everybody smile. Joe could light up the room with his smile. I just want to walk into a room and see him sitting there and hear him say ‘Mum’ one more time. It took me months to watch some videos on my phone of Joe. I just found it so upsetting and I would sit there crying uncontrollably. I found one video and in it he was saying ‘Mum’ and I just kept playing that over and over so I could hear him saying it. It’s not the same of course and for every ounce of happiness it makes me feel I have this overwhelming sense of despair knowing I will never see my little boy again or hear him say ‘Mum’. I’ve kept Joe’s room exactly as it was and every time I walk in there I just want him to be there.
"Everyone misses Joe’s personality. He was unique and had such a sharp sense of humour and his honesty at times could make situations a bit awkward. I used to cringe sometimes when we had unexpected visitors because Joe could be really blunt with them and basically far too honest! We used to laugh afterwards but at the time you just wanted the ground to open up and swallow you.
"I think the times I miss the most is when I and Joe would just be left together because our bond was so special and we shared so many special times together. At New Year just gone it was just the two of us and we watched the fireworks and then danced to madness. It was perfect and Joe was so happy and excited for what lay ahead.
"I visit Joe’s memorial every day. We got it all done beautifully for him and there is a sign which says ‘Joe’s garden smile and remember me’. There are references to Doctor Who in particular with Tardis and Dalek’s hanging from his tree. There’s also a pug which Joe loved. He used to laugh and laugh at the Despicable Me films so we’ve got characters from that included in the memorial. In the middle is a heart with a tribute which says ‘Our boy Joe Cairns born 29th November 2004 forever 14. To love and be loved is the greatest gift. Fly high sweet boy xxxx’.
"I cry everyday thinking about Joe. He’s constantly on my mind because I miss his humour and company. We had a special connection and I never thought that would be broken. It’s ripped me apart and the only thing keeping me going are my three other beautiful children. I know I need to be strong for them and it will bring me joy seeing them happy but I will always struggle to be entirely happy without my boy. It’s destroyed my life. Some days I don’t want to get up and I feel exhausted because I can’t sleep. So during the day I’ll try and keep busy but there’s times when I’m almost collapsing with exhaustion. My Mum, Dad and best friend Cheryl have been very supportive throughout but I know it's difficult for them too. Joe meant so much to everyone.
"I haven’t yet got any feelings towards the driver despite the fact he’s taken my child away. To an extent he’s taken my other children’s mum away because I know I’m not the same anymore and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again without Joe in my life. The driver is insignificant even now I know exactly what he did that day. His actions were so selfish and utterly mindless. I don’t want to focus on him but I do want to see his face and for him to see mine so he can see my hurt. The hurt I feel when on Mother’s Day my boy isn’t around and at Easter or Halloween where he was always about bringing his special personality to the occasion. It would’ve been Joe’s fifteenth birthday on the 29th of November. That’s the next thing I’m going to have to get through then it will be my birthday followed by Christmas. All what should have been happy times are now going to be filled by reminders of Joe no longer being here. It’s going to be a living nightmare without my hero, my boy Joe."