My friend the gangster, by Gascoigne

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SOCCER STAR Paul Gascoigne has written the foreword to a biography of an infamous Tyneside mobster, in which he says he was "devastated"when "his friend" was gunned down.

The manuscript of the controversial book, which chronicles the life of "the hardest man in Newcastle", Viv Graham, who ran a major protection racket involving 100 pubs and bars across Tyneside, has been seized by Northumbria Police.

The book's author, Steve Richards, claims it casts new light on who shot Graham on New Year's Eve, 1993. The book was due to go on sale last week. Mr Richards said: "It's very frustrating because everything was geared up to go to the publishers and for the book to come out last week. I can only assume the police have read it and found something interesting."

In researching the book, titled Viv - Simply the Best taken from an inscription on Graham's headstone, Mr Richards interviewed Gascoigne about their unusual friendship. He said that the football player was "desperate to help" with the book and happy to pen the foreword, a copy of which has been obtained by the Independent on Sunday.

It reads: "Viv has ... always been a friend of mine. When visiting Newcastle I sometimes came across Viv when he was in Maceys [a city-centre bar] and I would stand with him and have a few drinks - as a friend, not a minder. I was devastated by the news of him being killed. Gazza."

The author, whose book sympathetically portrays Graham as a gentleman gangster and a modern day "Robin Hood", said that the hell-raising football star and the Geordie Godfather shared the same roots in the North East's ultra-macho working class culture. Mr Richards said: "Viv Graham to Gazza would have been an idol, a man he held in high esteem, not the other way round, because Viv was a man's man."

Mr Richards said the pair would often meet on the drinking circuit in the raucous pubs and clubs of Newcastle and Gascoigne would supply Graham with football tickets and recommend him to fellow footballers who needed minders. When police raided Mr Richards's office in Gateshead in June they seized computer discs and documents relating to another book he is researching into how major companies deal with complaints.

Mr Richards and two researchers were arrested and questioned over the tactics they had used to research the book. They are due to answer police bail on 14 August.

"I will strenuously deny any wrongdoing and, if this is what the raid was all about, why do the police not release the items connected with the Viv Graham book?" said Mr Richards.

A spokesman for Northumbria Police said an investigation was continuing but the Viv Graham biography was not a part of it.