As his career faded, Glitter obsessively collected images of children being abused

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IN THE glow of his expensive laptop, modem chirping as he surfed from link to link, Gary Glitter scanned and feasted on the Internet in the hope of satiating his most sordid fantasy.

Day after day, "download now" and "save as" commands were relentlessly employed by the fading glam rock star, sometimes in 12-hour stints, to build up the most extreme of photo-library collections.

On his hard disk, carefully ordered as if they were holiday snaps, were the tortured faces of children, boys and girls sometimes as young as two, bound and sexually tormented.

Glitter's solitary pursuit gave him the illusion that he would never be unmasked. As a precaution against casual users of his laptop, he employed the use of encryption keys. But for all his sophisticated knowledge of the Internet, the child porn user groups and bulletin boards, he would not be caught by a sophisticated police operation but by the High Street retailer, PC World.

Glitter took his laptop to the Bristol branch of PC World with an unspecified fault. Leave the hard disk alone, he warned the technicians. And they did; until repair work turned up the first of a number of files that revealed images so sickening that the police were summoned.

That was November 1997. Glitter should have been preparing for his annual "comeback tour", in which undergraduates and office staff would be treated to a sweating, strutting rendition of his Seventies repertoire. Christmas was always the time of year that paid the rent. Instead, police searched his home in Wedmore, Somerset, and his luxurious flat in central London, removing further material.

Any attempts by Glitter to claim his storing of the child porn was accidental, an oversight of a first-time web user, were dwarfed by the scale of his collection - more than 4,000 images and membership of on-line child-porn exchanges.

Glitter was ensnared. He was duly charged on 18 November, 1997.

When the news broke, it caused shock waves around a nation that had adopted Glitter as a patently absurd but always unthreatening entertainer, as much pantomime turn as rock musician.

But the news brought others out of the woodwork. A so-called fan discovered that it was an opportune moment to again "kiss and tell". Glitter had been the larger-than-life glam rock idol, the comeback king, she the 14- year-old schoolgirl he had bedded and corrupted, she alleged. She had previously revealed only a long-term relationship with Glitter.

The timing was perfect, the tabloids loved it and the chequebooks duly opened.

Story secured for the Sunday tabloid News of The World, the girl - now a 34-year-old woman - complained to the police. Glitter was again arrested - this time charged with four counts of indecent assault and four counts of serious sexual assault.

During the four-day trial, in which Glitter declined to give evidence, the jury heard accusations that the singer had spent more than two years in the early Eighties sexually abusing a girl whom he had encouraged to call him "Daddy".

But the jury was unconvinced, largely due to details of the tabloid's payments to thewoman, which would net her pounds 25,000 on Glitter's conviction.

As the final not-guilty verdict was returned, the public gallery, packed with fans, erupted into applause, which was acknowledged by the star.

It was a brief respite. His fall from grace, the end of the Gary Glitter legend, would follow within hours, the natural conclusion, some might say, for this lurching, tragic, shambles of a British musician.

Forever ludicrous in lame, his trademark eyebrows permanently cocked, he successfully convinced generations of fans that he was the Leader of the Gang. Most of his musical contemporaries fell by the wayside but Glitter became an institution, popping up Christmas after Christmas with his own rock'n'roll version of pantomime.

That Glitter achieved fame at all was a triumph over adversity, as he managed to escape a tough childhood. Born Paul Francis Gadd in Banbury, Oxfordshire, he was illegitimate and never met his father. He was brought up by his grandmother and his mother, who could not always cope.

At the age of 10 he and his brother were put into care. He ran away constantly to London, and at 12 he was performing in clubs such as La Condor, owned by the Krays.

He made an album for the record company Decca at 14 as well as playing at the Star Club in Hamburg where the Beatles began their career.

He went through a succession of stage personae over the years, including Paul Russell, Paul Raven and Paul Monday, but somehow he always failed to set the charts alight.

But at the age of 28 he finally did make it, when he got in at the start of the glam craze in 1972. He picked the name "Gary Glitter" from the choice of Terry Tinsel, Stanley Sparkle and Vicky Vomit.

"Rock'n'Roll (Parts 1 and 2)" was his first hit - a 15-minute drum-heavy chant. It reached number two in Britain and number seven in the US.

On Top of the Pops he wore a silver outfit and thigh-length boots to make sure he was lodged in the public consciousness. It worked, and hit after hit penned by Glitter and his producer, Mike Leander, followed - most notably, "I'm the Leader Of The Gang (I Am)" - the song that became his theme.

By 1975, he had sold 18 million records. But the glam-rock fashion died out and Glitter went bankrupt, owing pounds 170,000 to the Inland Revenue - and pounds 60 to the Fulham Road Tandoori.

He divorced his wife of nine years. Their two children, Paul and Sarah, are now in their 30s.

Glitter later went back to work - battling drink and drugs - on comeback tours.

Not anymore. Today, he wakes up, classified as a "VP" - a "vulnerable prisoner" because of his offences - in Horfield prison, Bristol.