A NORTH-EAST man jailed for murdering a barmaid in Southampton 27 years ago could be released from prison within days after serious doubts emerged about his conviction.

Last night, police said they were reopening the case after major doubts emerged surrounding the conviction of Robert Graham Hodgson, for the murder of 22-year-old Teresa de Simone, in December 1979.

The 58-year-old, who grew up in Tow Law, County Durham, has spent nearly all his adult life in prison after being found guilty.

He was only allowed out once, in handcuffs, to attend his mother’s funeral.

His father, Jack, is also dead, although his two brothers and four sisters still live in the region.

If Hodgson, who is also known as Sean, is released, he will make legal history as one of the longest serving victims of a miscarriage of justice.

It will be comparable only with the case of Stephen Downing, who was jailed wrongly for 27 years for beating a typist to death. He was cleared in 2002.

Hodgson’s case has been sent to the Court of Appeal as a matter of urgency after claims that DNA tests on semen found at the scene prove it was not his.

A police statement released last night said: ‘‘Hampshire Constabulary has started an investigation into the newly developed DNA evidence in the case of the murder of Teresa de Simone, following the work of its serious crime review team.

‘‘This investigation is focused on identifying the owner of the DNA.”

Hodgson was dubbed the crucifix killer after confessing to murdering Miss de Simone, who was strangled with the chain of a cross she wore round her neck.

But when the case went to court he denied being the murderer. His defence said he was a pathological liar.

In 1982, his parents told The Northern Echo they doubted their son’s guilt. They were baffled about why he confessed to a Catholic priest while in Wandsworth prison on car theft charges.

The family were Protestant, and believed he had been seeking attention.

Hodgson grew up on the Attlee Estate, but spent little time there after the age of 11.

He went to Tow Law Junior and Infant School near the family home, but was often in trouble and spent time in borstal and prison.

A former neighbour said yesterday: “The last time we remember seeing him was at Olive’s funeral when he was allowed out in handcuffs.

“She came from Ireland and was a lovely woman. Jack was in the RAF in the war.”

Another Tow Law resident said: “I don’t think he will come back here.”

Hodgson, who is mentally ill, is being held in the hospital wing of Albany jail, on the Isle of Wight.

Prosecutors are not expected to challenge his release and his lawyer expects him to be freed on Wednesday.