A COUPLE raising money for one of the region's special schools have received support from an unlikely source, Britain's most notorious prisoner, Charles Bronson.

Philip and Claire Raper of Darlington, County Durham, struck up a friendship with Bronson, now in his 26th year in prison, in August this year.

Mrs Raper, 33, of Jedburgh Drive, contacted the prisoner after reading his book.

She said: "I was disgusted at the way he had been treated, and felt very sorry for him. I told him about our charity work and asked him if we could have one of his pictures, and he sent us one straight back.

"We are raising money for a special therapy bed for the music therapy suite at Beaumont Hill Special School, which costs £895, and we have held social nights and charity evenings with auctions to raise the money.

"Charles has given us a picture he has painted and two of his cards to be auctioned. He loves children, he is actually a lovely guy.

"He has his own charity, called Bronson's Children, which is he always fundraising for. Its first project is to dig up Saddleworth Moor next Spring to try and find the remains of Keith Bennett."

To raise more money for the special bed at the school, which a relative's child attends, Philip, 47, was sponsored to run 10 miles yesterday (SUN) from the Lord Nelson pub in Gainford to Jack Horner's pub in Darlington.

Neither Claire or Philip has yet met Bronson, but a visiting order for Claire is due in the near future.

She said: "I am going to visit him, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'll be taking my six-year-old daughter Lilli with me, that's how much I trust him. He has never hurt a woman or a child.

"She already sends him little drawings and stuff."

The couple have pledged their support to Bronson in one permanent way, they have both had his image tattooed onto their bodies.

Mrs Raper said: "He designed the tattoos, they are from drawings he has done of himself.

"It is our way of saying we support him, and we believe in him. He has been in prison for a long time, when others who have done worse things are allowed free after a short time."

Bronson has spent 22 years in solitary confinement. He was originally jailed for seven years for armed robbery in 1974, but was later jailed for life after taking a prison teacher hostage.