James Hanna charged: US police pursue child sex case

US detectives are due to speak to police in Wales in connection with an investigation into a man charged with child sex offences in Arkansas, BBC Wales has discovered.

James Hanna, 66, has been under arrest in the US state since August.

Police in the US believe he is the same man who founded a scheme to regenerate Blaenavon, Torfaen, by opening up second-hand bookshops in 2003-2004.

Gwent Police say they are reviewing allegations raised about him in 2006.

After his arrest in Madison County, Arkansas, in August, he was indicted in September on three counts of rape involving a minor and 25 counts of engaging children in sexually explicit conduct for use in visual or printed medium.

He also faces one count of sexual indecency with a child and three counts of internet stalking of a child.

There are calls for a review of how Gwent Police and Torfaen council dealt with concerns raised with them about Mr Hanna, between late 2003 and 2006.

Many of the book stores which sprang up through the Booktown initiative were located in council-owned properties at reduced rents.

New bookstore owners paid Mr Hanna for a package of support including accommodation, stock and training.

Mississippi-born Mr Hanna ran a bookstore himself and funded a local photography scheme for young people during his time in the town.

Today, only two of the 10 bookshops opened in Blaenavon through the Booktown initiative remain.

Mr Hanna was also involved with the Blaenavon doorway project for troubled young people, with whom he produced an online video, and had links with local schools through Booktown.

Mark Bennett, who opened one of the Booktown stores, has told BBC Wales he questioned with Torfaen council whether Mr Hanna had the right to work in the UK in late 2003 or early 2004.

Complaints of fraud

It is understood Mr Hanna was in the UK on a visitor's visa only.

Mr Bennett also lodged complaints of fraud in relation to Mr Hanna's running of the Booktown project and urged the council to investigate him. He later raised these concerns with police, but said they were not acted upon.

He further claimed that he had concerns at the time about Mr Hanna's involvement with children and young people, which he also said he raised with the authorities.

Gwent Police confirmed they were reviewing allegations raised with them about Mr Hanna in 2006, and would be liaising with Madison County police as part of this review.

Torfaen council said the Blaenavon Booktown scheme had been "supported by the council and local community" as part of the town's regeneration.

The council said it only received allegations concerning Mr Hanna's immigration status and a trade dispute, which it did not consider matters for it to pursue.

Among 2,000 images classified as child sex abuse that were seized by detectives from Mr Hanna's grocery and farm supplies store in Japton, Arkansas, are a number of older photographs featuring young girls.

'Identify all victims'

Deputy Russell Alberts, of Madison County Sheriff's Office, said: "We have identified all of our local victims, and there are many older pictures of girls that remain unidentified.

"Time permitting, we will continue to make all possible efforts to identify all victims."

It was "very possible", he said, that some of the images might have originated in the UK, and it was believed some could date as far back as the late 1960s or early 1970s.

He said it was believed that Mr Hanna had been living back in the US for around five years, having returned some time in late 2006 or early 2007, initially to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Madison County detectives have also questioned Hanna about his past association with Alan Fossey, a former DJ on pirate and local radio who set up a community station in Blaenavon.

Fossey was jailed for two and a half years in January 2006, when he was 58, for a catalogue of internet child porn offences, committed between 2003 and 2005. It is understood that Mr Hanna has denied knowing Fossey.

Lynne Neagle, the Torfaen AM, confirmed she was approached by Mr Hanna about an "immigration problem" in 2004 and wrote to the Home Office on his behalf.

'Shocked and horrified'

It is understood that Mr Hanna was subsequently granted a work permit, but left Blaenavon shortly afterwards.

Ms Neagle said she was "shocked and horrified" to hear of the charges facing Mr Hanna.

He is being held in custody and is expected to stand trial on at least some of the charges in the New Year. It is understood that he could face up to 60 years imprisonment.

Gwent Police said in a statement: "In light of ongoing legal proceedings in Madison County, Arkansas, Gwent Police is reviewing allegations made against a 66-year-old man six years ago.

"We can confirm a file of evidence regarding an allegation of fraudulent activity was passed to the CPS in 2006, but no further action was taken."

It is understood that the review will include an exploration of whether allegations of a sexual nature were made against Mr Hanna.

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