SOCCER hero Jack Charlton stunned anti drink-drive campaigners yesterday by admitting that he once drove 60 miles while over the limit.

The former Republic of Ireland manager made the revelation at the launch of a police road safety campaign.

Mr Charlton, 64, told the shocked audience - including senior police chiefs - that he drove to Sheffield from a dinner in Rochdale, despite having drunk three glasses of wine.

As he launched the pre-Christmas campaign by Northumbria Police, the former Newcastle United and Middlesbrough manager admitted: "If anyone knows the hazards of drinking and driving it is me. Over the years, I have come close a couple of times.

"I had two or three glasses of wine in Rochdale and I took a chance, took the risk of taking the car. Had they breathalysed me that night, I'm sure I would have been over."

Following the revelation, Mr Charlton urged people to heed the warnings and leave their cars behind when going on festive nights out - as he now does.

His frankness was met with approval by families affected by the consequences of drink- driving.

Peter Harrison, who lost two brothers at Christmas 1997 when they were mown down by a drink-driver, was among those at the campaign launch.

He said: "I think he was just being honest and I think he was talking common sense.

"To stand up somewhere like that and say 'I've been there myself and I know how easy it is to make a mistake' is quite a brave thing to do."

The launch came as the Home Office released National Breath Test statistics showing figures for 1998 and 1999.

In 1998, Cleveland Police carried out the largest number of tests in the country per head of population and recorded the lowest percentage of failures, repeating similar successes the next year.

Durham Police recorded a ten per cent drop in failed tests over the period, while Northumbria Police had the highest number of failures in the North-East.

Cleveland's Assistant Chief Constable, Bryan Bell, said: "The message is at last getting home. There are those who will ignore the law, but these figures show that they run a real risk of being caught."