John Barton, played by James Thornton, made his first on screen appearance on 17 July 2009. The casting and character was announced in May 2009. John and his family are part of a new farming dynasty, who took over running Butler's Farm from the Sugden family.
John, his wife, Moira, and their children, Holly, Adam and Hannah arrive in Emmerdale and move into Butler's Farm. John tries to help Aaron Livesy stop Rodney Blackstock's car after the brake is left on. They struggle and eventually the car crashes into the shop. When John catches Aaron playing with a lighter in his barn, he punches him and locks him in. After he is let out, Aaron reports John to the police. John is arrested, but after Moira pleads with the Dingles, Aaron drops the charges. When some lambs die on the farm, John is furious to discover there has been a chemical spill. Eve Jenson begins working on the farm and she is attracted to John. Eve and John share a kiss, which is witnessed by Cain Dingle. Cain tells Moira, who slaps Eve and kicks John out. Moira later forgives John and he moves back in. John and Moria help Holly battle her drug addiction. John is angry when he learns Moira was arrested for buying drugs, so she could give them to Holly. John and Moria are concerned when Holly goes missing and when she returns, John threatens to use heroin in front of her. Holly pleads with John not to do it and she starts a long road to recovery. After Declan Macey finds out Adam cheated on his daughter with his ex-wife, he begins making things difficult for John and the family. Declan tells John he is selling the farm, but John refuses to leave.
John is angry and devastated when Cain Dingle smugily informs him that he has been having an affair with Moira for weeks. John angrily confronts Moira and she later breaks down and confesses everything to him. He kicks her out and she goes to stay with her Marlon Dingle for a few weeks. During this time, John is provoked several times by Cain. When Moira returns home, John explains that their children have worked out her affair with Cain and John and Moira split up and she moves out. In December, John is provoked three times by Cain and this later leads into a violent showdown between the two men and John later pushes Moira to the ground. Later that night, Cain is brutally attacked and John is a suspect when he is found by Adam walking near the scene, with blood on his hands. John is arrested for the attack but he is cleared when the attacker turns out to be Cain's father Zak Dingle. He rebuffs Moira's attempts of a reconciliation and he starts flirting with Chas Dingle in front of Moira. Their relationship survives his childrens attempts to break them up but when they come to sleep together, John couldnt go through with it and he realises that he is still in love with Moira, so Chas dumps him. John and Moira talk and they decide to put the divorce on hold and they later reconcile. They tell Adam, Holly and Hannah, who are so thrilled that they book a few nights in a hotel for them. However on their way to the hotel, John loses control of Andy's Land Rover on some black ice and it rolls down a hillside. Declan and his girlfriend Katie Sugden discover them and Declan rescues Moira, but John is still inside the car when it falls down a cliff. He is rushed to hospital and undergoes surgery. However, he later dies with his family around him.