Mum’s grief on eve of tragic son’s 18th birthday

Susan Stewart on a bench in memory of son Josh. 'Picture: Ian Rutherford
Susan Stewart on a bench in memory of son Josh. 'Picture: Ian Rutherford
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As her only child, Josh James-Stewart – a popular and talented rugby player with hopes of playing for Scotland – was his mother’s pride and joy.

But his bright future was taken from him on November 25, 2013, when he was killed in a horrific car crash near Dunbar, which also claimed the lives of his friends David Armstrong and Jenna Barbour.

Josh James-Stewart.  Picture Ian Rutherford

Josh James-Stewart. Picture Ian Rutherford

Josh was just 16 when the Peugeot 206 he was travelling in came off the road and struck a wall in Tyninghame.

With what would have been his 18th birthday looming tomorrow, mother Susan Stewart has told how difficult it has been watching his friends come of age while knowing her son will never get the chance.

The 50-year-old said: “It’s been a hard year because all his mates are turning 18 and learning to drive.

“I’m missing that part of his life. I’m still stuck in 2013.

David Armstrong

David Armstrong

“When I talk to other [bereaved] mothers, they feel the same, they feel stuck in the period before their children died.”

Susan plans to visit the crash site at Tyninghame to put flowers down tomorrow morning, before going to work as usual at the Chippendale International School of Furniture in Gifford.

Later, she will meet some of Josh’s friends to share memories over a low-key dinner.

“It will be a quiet thing, to talk about him,” she said. “At the end of the day, that’s all we can do.”

Jenna Barbour

Jenna Barbour

This weekend, she will join around 30 loved ones to embark on the 5k Blacklight Run at Ingliston.

The group, made up of Josh’s school friends, local residents and relatives aged from just 11 years old to 64, will join 
hundreds of runners for the event, where participants are covered in neon paint as they complete the course.

So far their fundraising efforts have attracted more than £1000 for road safety charity Brake, with which Ms Stewart has been working closely since Josh’s death.

“We’re hoping to make £3000,” she said. “What attracted it to me was to make it a fun event rather than a serious one, so it’s not about the time or the speed, it’s just about enjoying it.

“It’s more for a celebration of Josh rather than just raising money, because it’s so close to his 18th.

“We can’t do birthday cake and parties, because he’s not here, so I thought something like this would be great.”

Susan, who lives at Stenton in East Lothian, said she hopes that Josh would approve of their challenge.

“He would think we’re absolutely nuts – he’ll probably be up there laughing at me,” she said. “If he was here he would be all for it.

“He loved doing different things. Rugby was his main one. He had been trying out for the Scotland under-16s, he had a future in rugby.”

The pain of losing a child is indescribable, but Susan says being on her own makes the grief even more intense.

“This is a hard month,” she said. “It’s harder for me because I don’t have a partner or other children. When I talk to other bereaved mothers they find a focus on their families with other children.

“I kind of struggle a bit because I’m on my own.”

Susan recently bought a house in Turkey with her sister, Josh’s aunt Jennifer, to fulfil a dream of living abroad that she had shared with her son.

With the second anniversary of the accident on the horizon, Ms Stewart remains determined to campaign for stricter driving laws for young drivers to help prevent other families “going through this nightmare”.

In September last year, Robbie Gemmell, 17, was given a four-year driving ban and 300 hours of unpaid work after admitting causing the crash by driving without due care and attention.

Ms Stewart believes that curfews and limits on the number of passengers should be imposed to keep young road users safe.

Graduated driving licences have already been adopted in countries such as Australia and the United States in an attempt to curb the shocking statistics about deaths and casualties of youngsters on the road.

Experts at Brake have estimated that stricter measures could save 200 young lives a year. “I’m hoping to go into schools and to give talks – I’m speaking to Brake about it,” said Ms Stewart. “Something good has got to come out of this.”

To donate to the fundraising challenge, visit