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[frown][comp]A nation held its breath... but for Ernest Barrie the roughest of justice was only hours away.

I was the first person Rough Justice prisoner Ernest Barrie embraced as he walked to freedom from Peterhead jail in August 1988. He was taking his first faltering steps to a new life after languishing in prison for four years for a crime he did not commit.On that day, he told me of his hopes for the future and his dream that one day he would have a son to carry on his name...

Ten years after that joyous day of freedom, I hugged Ernie again as we gazed together at his young son lying in a white open coffin...

Ernie's dream had died.

TODAY, Ernest Barrie should have enjoyed the very special cuddles of his only son...

Instead, his Fathers' Day began when he awoke to a pain and emptiness so deep it almost stills the heart.

Not for Ernest that dog-eared card, made with a little boy's clumsiness and lashings of love.

There is no outing to celebrate the bond between dad and child.

Instead, there is only grief and heartbreak.

Only days before, the whole of Scotland held it's breath as Ernest's precious five- year-old boy vanished off the face of the Earth.

There was a massive 48-hour police search.

But puppy-eyed Ernie junior was dead.

He had slipped into the River Clyde less than 300 yards from his home in Gorbals, Glasgow.

"He was the nicest wee boy in the world," sobs his father.

"He was my best pal and I loved every second I spent with him. He was a real daddy's boy.
I've known a lot of tragedy in my life but I've never felt pain like this.

"I'm heartbroken. I just don't know what I'll do without him. We were always together. He went everywhere with me.

"It may have been God's will that he was taken from me, but it is so hard to accept."

Ernie, senior, served four years in jail for a crime he didn't commit - an armed robbery at the Clydesdale Bank in Blantyre, Lanarkshire.

He walked free in 1988 after BBC television's Rough Justice programme took up his case and highlighted vital video evidence.

ERNIE says: "I thought the worst feeling in the world was being in jail when I was innocent.

"Now I would go back behind those walls in an instant if I thought it would bring back my son.

"Ernest was a real wee man. He was a five-year-old who seemed to have the wisdom of a 50-year-old.

"Everyone in the Gorbals knew him and loved him. He used to fly in the door from school full of energy and life.

"He was a little boy who just loved to be alive."

Ernie hits back at the "heartless" people who have claimed that he and his wife Marie allowed young Ernest to play outside unattended...

"We'd only just started letting him out to play at night with his wee pals because of the good weather.

"Anyone who suggests that we let him out to play unattended all the time is talking nonsense. It's just rubbish.

"He was never out of our sight. If he was playing outside we could always see him from our window."

Brushing away a tear, Ernie recalls the dreadful day his son disappeared...

"I collected him from school as usual. When he got home I helped him put on his `play' clothes and gave him something to eat. He was just bursting to get out.

"I took him down in the lift and, as we came out the door, two of his pals came over. They all went to play on the swings.

"I was checking him every few minutes because I was on the ground floor doing the laundry.

"One time I looked out, he wasn't there. He had just disappeared in a matter of seconds.

"I started looking for him in the streets. I kept asking the local kids if they'd seen him. By this time I was really worried."

Ernest was filmed on CCTV cameras desperately stopping people in the street. Neighbours came out to help.
"I was frantic with worry. The tears were blinding me," he says.

Exhausted, Ernie and Marie called the cops.

"They were great. They sent in dozens of officers and calmed us down."

But, last Sunday, he learned that little Ernest had drowned after squeezing through an unlocked gate on the river bank.

"I was fearing the worst. But the news, when it came, was like a knife through my heart, says Ernie.

"Yet, I hadn't been able to stand the thought of the wee man being hurt by some pervert. So, in a strange way, it was a relief that he had simply slipped into the water."

HE adds in despair: "That gate should have been locked.

"The steps down to the water are a stairway to death. It was only a matter of time before a child was killed there.

"I went to the mortuary to identify Ernest's body. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

"His face was flashed up on a screen. I just took a quick look and said, `That's my boy. That's my boy'.

"I'd waited so long to have a son and, when he came along, he was a great surprise to us. He was my future.

"Today would have been a special day. He would have made me a card or got me a present.

"He was so generous. He would often give me chocolate he had in his pocket. When he pulled out the bar it would be all melted into the lining, but he still wanted you to have a piece."

Ernie has had flowers and cards from all over Scotland - including one from the Rough Justice team. He is grateful for all the kindness...

But it can never make up for that wee piece of melted chocolate he won't receive today.
 

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