The families of ecstacy victims last night forced pop star Brian Harvey into a humiliating climbdown over his claim the drug was safe to take and could ``make you a better person''.

The singer with the group East 17, an idol of tens of thousands of teenagers, had boasted he had taken 12 ecstasy tablets in one night and driven after taking the drug that has already claimed the lives of three teenage boys and a 24-year-old woman this year.

Harvey later admitted he had been ``stupid to spout off'' in a radio interview that caused even the Prime Minister to express his dismay.

As the sister of one of three Scots to die after taking ecstasy at an Ayrshire rave venue called on radio stations to boycott the group's records, Harvey released a statement of apology.

Miss Deborah Stoddart, whose 20-year-old brother Andrew died in 1994 after taking only two-and-a-half tablets, said: ``Brian Harvey is obviously an idiot if he really thinks ecstasy is safe. So many kids look up to him and listen to what he says, so radio stations should ban him to send out the message he is wrong.''

Mr Major told the Commons that, while he had not heard Harvey's remarks that ecstasy was safe: ``I would regard any comments of that sort as wholly wrong.''

In an interview with Independent Radio News, Harvey said: ``Really in the long run, it's a safe pill and it ain't doing you no harm. I don't see the problem.''

He went on: ``If you're frightened and you don't know whether to do it, then don't do it - don't do it to prove a point, you know what I mean.

``If you're someone and you know you can take it and, you know, it's not harming you, you know, and it's making you a better person and it's making you someone that people like...

``I'm not saying that you should take drugs for people to like you, that's not where I'm coming from.

``But if it makes you feel better and gives you something to do at the weekend and you go out and have a good time, I don't see why not, man, because life's too short, you know what I mean.''

In a prepared statement, Harvey later said: ``Without knowing any scientific facts, I now realise that I was being very irresponsible and I would like to apologise as I've obviously caused offence.''

Harvey, who made a specific apology to the family of Leah Betts, added: ``Now that I know more about the deadly dangers of ecstasy, I realise I was completely out of order and am horrified at the thought that anything I have said could influence anyone. All I'd like to say now is: never take ecstasy - it can kill you.''

Last night, 14 English radio stations banned East 17 records from the airwaves, although none in Scotland opted to follow their lead. Radio Clyde had not playlisted any East 17 records for either today or yesterday and a spokesman said: ``We will not be rushing to put them back on.''

Harvey's original comments were swiftly countered by doctors, politicians, and relatives of those who have died after taking the drug.

Dr Leo Murray from Ayr Hospital, who treated the three Hanger 13 victims, said: ``It is an unpredictable drug and I have seen it kill three young men. So it is simply not true to say it is safe.

``I think it is irresponsible of an opinion former to come out with a statement like that when we know it is such an unpredictable drug.''

Mr Graham Robertson, deputy chief executive of the Health Education Board for Scotland, said: ``We would disagree with Mr Harvey. We believe that no drug is risk free.''

MP Nigel Evans, secretary of the Parliamentary Drugs Misuse Group and chairman of the all party Music Group, said: ``These comments are unbelievably irresponsible.''

Mrs Paul Betts, whose daughter Leah died after taking one tablet at her 18th birthday party, said: ``It is very evident from what he was saying that he does not know the dangers.''

Miss Stoddart, of Rigside, Lanarkshire, added: ``My family has tried and tried to convince people that taking ecstasy is dangerous but when someone famous does something like this I'm left feeling as though all we are doing is banging our heads off a wall.''

It is now thought that 500,000 young people use ecstasy every week.

Health risks include kidney failure, heart attacks, brain damage, and liver damage.