BOSSES at a North-East shipyard yesterday have said they are prepared to take back a dock worker jailed for man-slaughter.

Father-of-two John Barry Durham, who worked at Hereema, in Hartlepool, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on Tuesday after he admitted stabbing former friend John Robertson in the neck during a violent confrontation.

Durham, 33, of Brinkburn Road, Darlington, lashed out with a knife after he was attacked by Mr Robertson last September.

Teesside Crown Court was told that the pair's friendship became strained by a long-running feud between rival gangs in Darlington, one known as "townies" and the other drawn from members of the travelling community.

But the court was also told that Durham was a "hard-working, diligent, responsible man" whose efforts were praised by his employers.

Heerema's human resources manager, Tony Windebank, said yesterday that Durham would be offered work on his release if it was available.

"He was an excellent worker. What we have said is that, providing we have got work on, there would be no reason why we wouldn't take him back. It has been a very tragic and unfortunate incident for all the parties."

Workmates held a collection at Christmas raising £900 for Durham's family - he has a wife and two young children. He must serve half of his sentence before being considered for release.

During Tuesday's hearing, Durham was described as a completely rehabilitated man, having served jail terms in the past.

As well as a glowing tribute from his employers, the court also heard that he had displayed exemplary behaviour during his time in prison. He had trained with the Samaritans to become a listener for other inmates.

Mr Robertson died from a single stab wound to the neck after a struggle with Durham in West Auckland Road, Darlington, on September 28.