Family mark Jamie Skinner death one year on

Jamie's brother Tony Skinner,  cousin Karen Greechan, sister Sonia McCraw and Steven McCraw remember Jamie. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Jamie's brother Tony Skinner, cousin Karen Greechan, sister Sonia McCraw and Steven McCraw remember Jamie. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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TODAY marks the anniversary that no-one ever wanted to celebrate.

The Skinner family would normally be listening to Christmas songs and wrapping last-minute presents, but instead they are making a heartbreaking pilgrimage to the graveside of their beloved Jamie, who suffered a fatal cardiac arrest while playing football.

Jamie with his cousins Steven and Sean. Picture: contributed

Jamie with his cousins Steven and Sean. Picture: contributed

Jamie’s friends and family have mourned the 13-year-old every moment since his death that cold December day on a Saughton playing field tore their family apart.

Today, they will visit his grave at Craigmillar Castle Park Cemetery, simply adorned with his name and a picture of a football.

Some of his cousins will go paintballing, while others hope just to keep busy rather than dwelling on the pain, believing Jamie would want it that way.

Twinkling Christmas lights adorn the front of his cousin Karen Greechan’s Liberton home as a small gesture of hope as family and friends gather in the living room to speak of the agony they have endured.

Karen, 44, recalls the overwhelming support they ­received after Jamie died, ­including the harrowing first night when people shared their grief at Inch Park.

“It was a horrible night, it was raining hard. We were walking across the field and it was so dark, and we thought ‘Is there anyone here?’,” she says.

“Then the floodlights came up and there were just hundreds of people there. We found each other in the crowds and were just holding on so tight.”

His pal Max Mantle, 15, ­describes discovering on ­Facebook that Jamie had died and rushing out into the street where he slumped against a wall and cried.

They laugh now as they paint a vivid picture of the popular Liberton High School pupil, who excelled at basketball and athletics, but whose first love was always football. His voracious appetite and love of chicken stuck in everyone’s mind. On the day of his funeral, a whole chicken was cooked up but ­no-one wanted to eat it.

They pore over pictures on their phones of Jamie posing for selfies, in which he loved to show off his athletic physique.

“He doesn’t even look like he is putting any effort in,” says Max, laughing to himself.

His cousin Rebecca Pitbladdo, 15, adds: “The girls really loved him. He just got on with everyone.”

The family are still tormented by what could have been, what might have happened if the defibrillator stored so close to where he fell had been used and whether his young life could have been saved.

Jamie’s cousin Conor, 15, was so traumatised by what happened that he gave up playing football for five months.

Happily he is now playing again for Fernieside FC, wearing the number 19 shirt – the same number as Jamie.

But while many would retreat into their grief, the family have channelled their pain and frustration at his senseless death into saving lives – raising more than £35,000 since they set up the foundation in his memory.

One of the most difficult milestones was Jamie’s birthday on April 1, says his older sister Sonia McCraw.

“We should have been giving him presents; instead we went to the graveyard.

“I just remember going there and crying my eyes out.

“He was only 13 years old and had his whole life in front of him. I don’t know how life can be so cruel.” Sonia slips ­between the past and present tense when she describes Jamie, as she struggles to remind herself he will not be walking through her door on Christmas Day with a big grin on his face.

The 30-year-old, her voice cracking, says: “Sometimes we look around the house and just expect to see him there. Especially around Christmas when you are altogether. I keep thinking ‘why can’t he be here?’.”

None of his family celebrated Christmas last year, with the turkey going uneaten and presents left wrapped.

But this year Sonia says they will try for the sake of her sons Sean, three, and Steven, seven.

“Jamie would have been furious seeing us moping around on Christmas Day,” she says. “He was Christmas-mad – he just loved it, he loved everything. He would get his pocket money and he would buy us something even if it was just a wee thing.”

Some joy has sprung from a year of tragedy as brother Tony and his partner Lisa are expecting a baby girl in January, and Sonia’s third baby is due on Christmas Eve.

“Our family is growing and you just think Jamie would have been the one who taught the boys how to play football,” she says. “It is just something we are never going to get over.”

Tony, 27, says the hardest times are when he is at home, where he used to cook Jamie dinner. “It was just me and him most of the time. I would help him out with money and look after him. Normal big brother stuff,” he says.

“It’s hard to believe it has been a year already. It still feels like it was last week.”

Tony and Sonia both describe their brother as a happy-go-lucky boy, who brightened up the room when he entered it.

Sonia adds: “When we ­decided to do the charity, we just thought what if we can stop this happening to someone else, then that is what he would want. I just want to thank everyone, the Evening News, the public, friends and family for all the help they have given us.

“It is just about keeping the memory of Jamie alive.”

HOW YOU CAN HELP

THE News has joined the family of Jamie Skinner in launching the Shockingly Easy campaign. We hope to ensure there is a life-saving defibrillator in every Lothian sports centre. Here’s how to help:

• Raise the issue with the committee of your local sports club and ask them to support the campaign.

• Learn CPR skills or volunteer to host a training session at your club. E-mail savealife@edinburghnews.com to help.

• If you already have a defibrillator, please let us know too, so you can be added to the ambulance services’ defibrillator map of the Lothians.

• On social media, find out how to show your support at edinburghnews.com.

• If you want to make a donation, cheques payable to The Jamie Skinner Foundation can be sent to Shockingly Easy, Edinburgh Evening News, Orchard Brae House, 30 Queensferry Road, EH4 2HS. Donate online at fundrazr.com, search for Jamie Skinner.