RONNIE'S TORMENT; For nearly a year, Ronnie Barker's son Adam has been on the run from child porn charges. Here, we reveal the real story of Adam's disappearance …

and the terrible toll it has taken on his family


THE typewritten letter began innocuously enough: 'Dear Mummy and Daddy.' What followed was coldly matter-of-fact, yet utterly devastating. It read: 'I need to tell you that some time ago the police came to my house looking for images of underage children on my computer. I was arrested.

'I must apologise for being foolish and thank you for being great parents.

You bear no responsibility for what has happened.

'I have come to the conclusion that rather than wait and find out what will happen, I will go away. You must understand that I won't be able to contact you for quite some time.

'Rest assured I will not harm myself; I would rather come back.

'Lots of love, ADAM.' The Mail can exclusively reveal that this is the way in which Adam Barker, the 37-year-old actor son of British comedy legend Ronnie Barker, broke to his parents the news of his arrest for allegedly possessing child pornography and then prepared them for his flight from justice.

He has been missing for almost a year and his family say there has been no contact since he went.

Adam's apparent shameful secret and decision to become a fugitive has devastated his 75-year- old father, one of the best-loved figures in the world of showbusiness.

Friends fear for Ronnie Barker's health. Plagued by heart trouble, his haggard appearance and uncertain delivery on the recently launched series The Two Ronnies Sketchbook, in which he reprises his classic partnership with Ronnie Corbett, has shocked his legion of fans.

Off-screen, the comedian - an intensely private man, devoted to his family and home - has found the spotlight focused on his affairs in the most distressing circumstances, and he faces the agonising prospect of perhaps never seeing his youngest child again.

Furthermore, if Adam does make contact, his father will face the conflict between paternal love and loyalty and the moral obligation to report it to the police. As this picture shows, the strain is all too obvious.

Adam Barker was one of 7,000 British men identified by Operation Ore, a police swoop on subscribers to an American internet portal which allowed access to a number of vile child porn sites across Europe and Asia. So far, at least 33 Ore suspects in the UK have chosen to kill themselves rather than face punishment and the public humiliation.

Hundreds of others have been put on the sex offenders' register and received sentences of up to five years' imprisonment.

Such is the backlog of cases that the majority of suspects have yet to be dealt with by the courts.

Adam Barker was among them and he knew the knock was coming. But after apparently making a half-hearted attempt to destroy the physical evidence of his interest in child pornography, he made a more profound decision.

He would not only run away from his shame, but completely disappear. It is not an easy task to accomplish but, 12 months on, Barker has, so far, succeeded in dropping off the radar of everyday life.

Police believe he may have had at least professional advice, if not more substantial help, to disappear so successfully.

Of course, he leaves behind the victims, and not only the children whose images he allegedly bought.

The close-knit Barker family has been subjected to regular visits by detectives still desperate for any clue that could lead them to Adam.

Officers' investigations have taken them to the Continent, where they strongly believe Adam to be hiding and where both his father and brother have family homes.

Now, helped by a number of family friends and legal sources, the Mail can tell, for the first time in detail, the extraordinary story of the calculated 'disappearance' of Adam Valentine Barker.

The chubby Old Harrovian is the youngest child of Ronnie Barker and Joy, his wife of 47 years. The Barkers' other son, Larry, 45, is a successful advertising executive - so successful, in fact, that he has recently upped sticks from his Oxfordshire family home, moving with his wife and two children to a chateau and vineyard near Bordeaux.

As we shall see later, this location has proved of some interest to British police.

The Barkers' daughter, Charlotte, 42, followed her father into showbusiness, but her acting career has failed to flourish despite Ronnie's best efforts.

While Adam has enjoyed a greater profile than his sister, he has been only a minor character actor in TV series such as Wycliffe and Monarch Of The Glen.

He reached his largest audience, albeit fleetingly, as a doomed Royal Navy sonar operator in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

Adam and Charlotte lived alone, a few doors away from each other on the same quiet street in Ealing, West London.

And it was in his terrace cottage that he allegedly indulged his paedophile interests.

In late February 2003, Scotland Yard was informed by American law enforcement agencies, via the UK's National Crime Squad, that a man called Adam Barker had used his Barclays Visa card to pay for child porn on the internet.

The transactions had apparently taken place in 1999. The Mail understands that on one occasion Barker had paid about [pounds sterling]20 to access one computer site; on another he had used the credit card to pay [pounds sterling]6 to view another paedophile site.

Metropolitan police officers visited Barker's home in June 2003. He was arrested and taken to Southall police station for interview where, the Mail understands, he was far from co-operative.

Searching his home, officers are said to have found a number of computer hard drives which had been smashed in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence.

It was only as they made their search that police realised that the man they'd arrested was the son of Ronnie Barker: with a large number of photographs and memorabilia, the house was a shrine to the loving father whom Adam Barker, even in early middle age, still called 'Daddy'.

Rock star Pete Townshend had been arrested for similar offences in connection with Operation Ore only months earlier, for which The Who guitarist received a caution.

The furore surrounding that case did not encourage police to fast-track Barker's investigation. They did not want to be seen to be treating him any differently from the thousands of suspects who would not make headlines.

So it was only ten months later, in April last year, that experts got round to analysing the computer equipment

It was damning: police managed to recover 1,200 images of child porn, including a small percentage of 'Grade 5' , which is deemed to be paedophile pornography of the worst kind, showing adults engaged in sex with children.

Up to this stage, Barker had been answering the terms of his bail.

Indeed, in late 2003 and early 2004, he was deeply involved in what may prove to have been his final theatrical role.

Justifying War was the Tricycle Theatre's re-enactment of the Hutton Inquiry and Barker played a junior barrister, one of the legal team exploring events leading up to the suicide of Iraq weapons expert Dr David Kelly.

Barker was a suspected paedophile, not a whistleblower like Dr Kelly, but he too greatly feared public exposure.

While he must have recognised the similarities with his own position, it seemed he had no intention of following Dr Kelly to an early grave.

Around the same time as the porn was identified in spring last year, solicitors acting for Ronnie Barker's family contacted police to say they had received an extraordinary letter from Adam, the main contents of which we have divulged.

The details are so sensitive that Scotland Yard will not even acknowledge its existence, let alone discuss its contents.

Here was the first warning sign that Adam Barker had a plan. What is striking about the letter, say the legal sources, aside from its content and curiously detached tone, is that it was typewritten and therefore beyond the analysis of caligraphists. It was not even possible to say, for sure, whether Barker had written it.

But by June 23 last year, the Crown Prosecution Service decided that it had enough evidence to prosecute Adam Barker.

The following day he was due to appear again at Southall police station to answer bail. If he had, he would have been charged, but, of course, he never appeared. A warrant was drawn up for his arrest and, belatedly, the chase was on.

When Charlotte let officers into her brother's home shortly afterwards, it was clear that his had not been some panicked, spur-of-the-moment flight.

Adam Barker had emptied the house of much of his portable personal belongings, including his clothes and passport. The Mail understands that his financial affairs had been carefully put in order. His family were asked to dispose of his car, a VW Golf.

Since then Adam has, to all intents and purposes, vanished from the face of the earth.

None of his debit or credit cards has been used, nor have any calls been made on his mobile phone. Calls to it are met with a recorded request to leave a text message.

These are basic rules for anyone on the run and police believe he may have sought professional advice from security or private investigation experts on how to disappear.

With a passport and ready cash, Barker could have passed unnoticed through a ferry terminal on his way to the Continent. Police suspect he may well have considerable funds held in offshore accounts.

It is to Barker's advantage that he is a loner, happy with his own company.

But he is also an actor, used to playing a part. Detectives believe that he could well have changed not only his appearance, which is so like a younger version of his father, but also his identity.

Bob Moffatt, a former detective superintendent in the Metropolitan Police's murder squad and an expert in tracking fugitives, said that the delay in analysing Adam Barker's computer had given the actor plenty of time to plan his escape.

'With the right amount of warning, you can get good advice from friends, associates or even professionals about what to do with your money, where to buy property, and how to make contact with loved ones without coming to the attention of the authorities,' he says.

'Someone planning to go on the run would normally consider how to retain their assets, how to move money to offshore accounts which cannot be traced easily by the police, and choose a country to live in which has non-existent or difficult extradition procedures.

'Then it is a question of keeping your head down and waiting for the hue and cry back home to abate.' But Mr Moffatt is convinced Barker will eventually surface.

'A life on the run is not a happy one,' he said. 'You are constantly looking over your shoulder.

'History has shown us that most fugitives turn up sooner or later. The Great Train Robbers - Ronnie Biggs, Bruce Reynolds and Buster Edwards - all re-emerged after going on the run, as did the disgraced politician John Stonehouse and the murderer Kenneth Noye.

'Barker may have it in his mind that if he returns in a few years' time, the police could decide it is no longer in the public interest to prosecute him.'

So where is he? Without any hard clues, police inquiries have turned towards France, where an extradition warrant is already in place.

Barker spoke fluent French and is believed to have been a frequent visitor to Paris. What is more, his brother Larry's new home and their parents' holiday home are only a few miles apart in the south-west of the country.

This week, the extremely frail looking comedian, who has lived for the past 20 years in a Cotswolds village, was supervising the unloading of furniture at the holiday house near Cognac. His daughter was also believed to be with him.

A friend of the family told the Mail: 'Ronnie was devastated by the disappearance of Adam.

It shattered him physically and emotionally and I think that has contributed to his ill health. He is suffering from heart trouble.

'The family says they have had absolutely no contact at all with Adam. That is even the word from those closest to him.

'I do know that the police have been in contact with the family again recently. I don't know if there was something specific but I was told it was not just because the first anniversary of the disappearance was coming up.'

Intriguingly, local people have reported seeing a British man of distinctive appearance, answering the description of Adam Barker, in the area of the Barker family's French homes up until a few weeks ago. And a child porn site has recently appeared in France, hosted by someone calling themselves Adam Barker.

Two red herrings - or proof that the fugitive has gone to ground in wine country? In truth, he could be anywhere in the world.

So far he has been lucky, but for how long is Adam Barker prepared to play his hardest role yet?