A Middlesbrough night-club owner who once wined and dined Charlie Kray has thrown his hat into the ring in a bid to become the town's first elected mayor.

But Barry Faulkner, 53, declared yesterday "I'm no gangster" when asked about his links to the notorious London crime family.

Mr Faulkner, who owns the Empire night-club and the Box Office bar on Corporation Road, said: "I decided to stand because I know I could do a lot better than the other people who have put up for it.

"It may go against me being a night-club owner...but anyone who knows me knows I'm not a gangster. I'm down to earth. I can't stand there and talk politics all day but it's about common sense."

The divorced father-of-four, who has lived in Middlesbrough all his life and has owned night-clubs for the last 22 years, was hit by scandal in 1990 when he took Charlie Kray - elder brother of the Kray twins - out for a night on the town and picked up the tab.

But Mr Faulkner said he has nothing to hide about his past. "All it was was a friend of mine who I'd met coming up for a weekend. He came up and brought with him his friend who was Charlie Kray. I never met him before and never saw him again. He was an absolute gentleman."

After the incident Mr Faulkner was refused a public entertainment licence by Middlesbrough Council and has never held one in his own name since.

His mayoral ambitions as an independent candidate were, he said, fuelled by a disillusionment with the other contenders - including former Middlesbrough CID head Ray Mallon.

Of Mallon he will only say: "Our paths have crossed."

As for the rest of the candidates: "There's no decent alternative. They are none of them Guiliani in New York are they?"

His campaign to become mayor on May 2 will focus on making the town centre safer and improving the night-life.

And, as a man whose club attracts some of the UK's trendiest DJs, he's undoubtedly hoping for the youth vote.

"I'd like to see the town cleaned up a bit and make it more like a city," he said. "Why should Middlesbrough night-clubs have to close at 2 o'clock when there's places up the road that open until 4am.

"I'm not a politician but I don't think this election is about politics. People know me and know I will do my best for the town."