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Villains Wiki

Emma Barton is a fictional character of the British soap opera Emmerdale. She started out as an anti-villain in 2015 and 2016 before later becoming the main antagonist in 2017, specifically after she caused the events of the "Hotton Bypass Crash" scenario. In doing so, Emma killed her estranged husband James Barton and later went on to accidentally murder their youngest son Finn Barton before she was later killed-off by her nemesis Moira Barton in a storyline dubbed "Who Killed Emma Barton?".

She was portrayed by Gillian Kearney.


Emma Barton first came to the village when her youngster son Finn tracked her down. He visited her in secret and they later met up with her two eldest sons Pete and Ross Barton. This happens after Ross gets into a fight and is injured while Pete and Finn watch on in a bar. Emma comes over to help Ross and is shocked when she recognizes her sons. Finn invites Emma back to the village. Ross tells her that her estranged husband and his father James Barton had sex with family relative Moira Barton (Natalie J. Robb) before she left. James is defensive and accidentally reveals that Adam Barton is his son. Emma blames James for losing her family, but when he reminds her that the real reason she left was because she tried to kill Ross when he was a child. Emma asks if James has told their sons the truth and he tells her he has not. Emma leaves and Pete later tells James that she returned once before, but he sent her away. Emma returns to the village and Ross and Finn try to persuade her to stay. She tries to talk to Pete, but he reveals that he knows what she did and will not forgive her. Emma befriends James' partner Chas Dingle (Lucy Pargeter), but remains hostile towards Moira. When Finn babysits Debbie Dingle's son, Emma comes over and Finn leaves her alone for a few minutes. When Pete learns this, he runs into the house and tells Emma to leave.

During an argument with James, Emma lashes out at him, causing a pallet to crash down on James and pin him under the load. Emma checks James to see if he is breathing and hesitates before calling an ambulance. Emma is defensive when Pete questions her about the accident. Pete tells Emma that he will keep her secret and she can stay in the village.


In October 2016, Emma later discovers that James had a one-night stand with Moira (who had recently lost her daughter Holly) and secretly retaliates by mentally torturing him at their new home. When all is discovered, a argument between the two leads to James knocking out Emma before she regains conscious and confronts him at the motorway. She ends up shoving James down into the motorway, critically injuring and subsequently causing a massive car crash that leads some drivers dead whilst all characters inadvertently caught in the scene are injured, though all nevertheless survive. James is taken to hospital, where Emma confronts him with a secret intention to pull the plug on his oxygen tank. She changes her mind though and ends up forgiving James before pleading with him to survive so their tenuous relationship can be given another chance. Those words, however, were unfortunately her last words to James when he suddenly dies after unexpectedly succumbing to his deteriorated condition, devastating Emma and his sons, thus making her a murderer as she was the one who shoved him down into the motorway earlier on. She later attends to his funeral along with her sons and many others; including Moira and her son Adam (who was unknowingly another son of James following his previously late affair with Moira).


Emma's role as the show's main antagonist as the central plot of the 2017 stint. Though she desperately covered up James' murder for nearly 10 months, he secret was finally exposed when her son Finn discovered the truth. His attempts to expose this to Pete and Ross resulted in Emma unintentionally shooting him, thus leading to his subsequently passing in front of his brothers. This revelation led to Pete and Ross separately confronting upon discovering her role in the deaths of James and Finn, which each ended with the brothers disowning their mother for her crimes. Emma, who was at the viaduct afterwards, was later spotted by her adversarial rival Moira Barton - who initially pleaded with Emma to come back to Emmerdale. However, Emma instigated an argument between them regarding the deaths of James and Finn before culminating that Moira was - incorrectly - to blame for the previous death of her daughter Holly. This deliberately prompted Moira to push Emma off the cliff, whereupon the latter subsequently died of her injuries - thus granting Emma her comeuppance at last. On the day of Emma's funeral - just months after an investigation was launched on the day of Finn's funeral - the truth had came out on the show when Moira secretly confessed to Cain.


  • Gillian Kearney (the actress who played Emma Barton) was nominated for "Villain of the Year" at the 2017 and 2018 British Soap Awards respectively; she lost on both occasions.