A man who claims he was wrongly jailed for murder is launching an appeal against his conviction.

Former soldier Tony Bottrill said: "I'd rather die in prison than own up to something I didn't do."

He says new facts have been established which he hopes will help clear his name. Bottrill, 45, has the support of his MP, human rights barrister Vera Baird, and a state-funded public defender lawyer who believe the conviction is unsafe.

From his cell in the high-security Frankland Prison, in Durham, Bottrill said he was not responsible for the death of cocaine dealer Bryan Scott.

The father-of-one admitted he thought drug pushers were "the scum of the earth" but said he had no reason to murder Mr Scott and did not even know him.

Bottrill was convicted of shooting Mr Scott, 26, in the back at the Kirkleatham Showground, Redcar, in March 2000.

The case became notorious because after a major police operation there was no immediate suspect or motive, and details emerged of the activities of drugs gangs across Teesside.

After former Guardsman Bottrill's conviction, it was revealed that he had previously been convicted of manslaughter in 1977 when two gay men were killed in a London flat.

Bottrill said he knew if his appeal failed he would never be released unless he admitted guilt.

But he said he would rather die in jail than say he was guilty of murder.

The 17st martial arts expert said: "I don't want compensation or anything like that. I just want my good name and to go home."

Speaking for the first time about his 1977 conviction for manslaughter he said: "It was never said that I actually killed anyone, but that I was there. I was a young soldier and I believed I should not do anything against my comrade who did commit the murders. I protected him. I was wrong. That's why I spent so long studying martial arts and Buddism, It is about enlightenment and atonement."

Of Mr Scott, he said: "I don't like drug dealers and he was one. I've always been clear that I think drug dealers are the scum of the earth. But the fact is, I didn't know him."

A clear motive for Bottrill to shoot Mr Scott was never established in court. However, Bottrill had a relationship, which he says was not sexual, with the ex-wife of a drugs dealer said to be a rival of Mr Scott.

The strongest pieces of evidence against Bottrill were death threat letters he allegedly sent to another man, Dean Taylor.

Two other letters were sent to Cleveland Police in which Bottrill appeared to blame the killing on Mr Taylor.

However, new research by Bottrill's lawyer, Giles Young, the state-funded public defender lawyer on Teesside, has led to leave for an appeal to be granted.