TRIBUTES have been paid to ‘a special diamond’ on what would have been her 18th birthday.

Demi-Leigh Hitchen was killed on July 18, 2005, when she was just three as she walked to the chippy with her mum Michelle and eight-year-old brother, Joshua.

The tot was hit by a van on the pavement in Livesey Branch Road, Blackburn, ten days after her third birthday, as the three went to get chips from Chopsticks takeaway.

Mum-of-three Michelle Hitchen said that her daughter’s death will always leave a huge void in her life and to mark the occasion she will be releasing 18 pink balloons at her graveside at Pleasington Cemetery today.

She said: “Even after so long it still hurts so much, the death of Demi-Leigh will haunt me forever.

“We will be decorating her garden at the cemetery and I have bought banners and balloons, I also got her a badge.”

Demi-Leigh’s grandad Michael Hitchen said the family still can’t believe Demi-Leigh won’t be here to celebrate the milestone birthday and that the pain of her death is still as raw as ever.

Michael, who beat cancer and has had to shield during lockdown, said: “Every year we celebrate her birthday. This year would have been her eighteenth and would have been officially an adult and that’s hard to take in.

“She was a special diamond and will be shining brightly above us on her birthday. Usually the family gathers to let off balloons in her memory but this year we are socially distancing and it won’t be the same.”

At the time of her death the family paid tribute to a ‘perfect daughter and sister who could always bring a smile to you face’.

Michael said: “We have paid tribute to Demi-Leigh every year and always marked her birthday with an announcement in the Lancashire Telegraph.

“Normally the entire family get together but because of the restrictions we can’t have a party, we will have to celebrate at a later date if we can.”

Michelle said that three-year-old Demi-Leigh was ‘always smiling’ and could have always been a thriving adult like her older brother, Joshua.

She said: “She was a cheeky little girl, she was really good, she was very, very clever, mature and I always think she would have made something of herself.

“I am extremely proud of my son Joshua who was with us that day. Joshua has gone on to be a fantastic young man. He has a great job and is engaged and we all love him very much.”

Michelle now has a little boy called Alfie who turned four on Monday.

She said: “You learn to live with the tragedy of losing a child and it will never get any easier.

“I will never get over the loss but we are sure she will be here in spirtit, with us today.”