THE mother of a teenage boy has paid tribute to her son, describing him as "a gift who taught her to be a better person".

Family and friends of Radcliffe schoolboy Joe Cairns gathered at East Lancashire Crematorium this afternoon to say their final farewells to the teenager.

More than 200 people attended the funeral, and wore items of red — Joe's favourite colour.

'Superhero' Joe, aged 14, died in a minibus crash on January 8, on his way to school.

In a eulogy read by Rev Jo McKee, the vicar at St Andrew's Church, Joe's family said: "Joe developed his own character of being very mischievous but also having an incredibly cheeky, endearing smile."

Those gathered heard how Joe was diagnosed with autism at the age of seven or eight but it "did not define him".

He attended Gorsefield Primary School and later Pontville School — a specialist residential and day school. He particularly loved the onsite farm and spending time with the animals.

The youngster was killed when his school minibus collided with an HGV on the M58. His school assistant 50-year-old Anne Kerr also died.

Mrs McKee said: "The traffic accident came out of no where - a normal journey to school turned into a tragedy.

"He was sat with Anne, his best friend, and with his favourite red blanket.

"That day changed everything for Joe's family, his friends, and indeed Anne's family and friends.

"Joe has been tragically and prematurely taken from this world."

At the crematorium, Joe's father Andy read aloud a passage from the children's book The Gruffalo - it was one of Joe's favourites.

The youngster also had a great love for superheroes, especially Dr Who.

She added: "The family knew that Joe had meltdowns and interaction with the world was difficult. Despite this, he learnt to battle and interact with the world around him.

"Steph says Joe has taught her to be a better person, growing in her patience, inspiring her to think bigger, growing in her perseverance. Joe was a gift to Steph and indeed the whole family."

A wake was held at The New Inn, Ainsworth Road, in Radcliffe.

Joe leaves behind mum Steph, dad Andy, sisters Geri and Olivia, brothers Lewis, Nathan and Jake.