Businessman behind ambitious plan to turn Welsh town into literary hotspot jailed in US for string of sex offences

James Hanna sentenced to two separate 60-year jail terms for producing child pornography and rape

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An American businessman behind an ambitious plan to turn a Welsh former iron-making town into a literary hotspot to rival Hay-on-Wye has been jailed in the US for a string of sex offences.

James Hanna, 67, an accomplished networker who set about turning the small town of Blaenavon into Booktown a decade ago, has been sentenced to two separate 60-year jail terms for producing child pornography and rape.

He returned to the United States in 2006 after the failure of the project to transform the historic town by founding up to ten new bookshops in council-owned buildings. A charismatic figure, Hanna’s marketing skills attracted several national newspapers to the struggling town which has the advantages of being a world heritage site set in beautiful countryside. Despite initial enthusiastic local support, the project ran into financial difficulties as the literary festival in Hay, 30 miles away, has continued to grow in size and national prominence.

Hanna also left behind allegations of fraud when he departed the country and questions over his immigration status. A file was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service in 2006 but no charges were brought against him.

Hanna was running a grocery store in Arkansas when he was arrested last year on suspicion of sexual assault on two teenage girls following a complaint by a parent.

Police recovered cameras and computers from his home which showed that he had been producing images of at least six youngsters aged 13 to 16. Police in the US contacted their counterparts in Gwent after the discovery of images that were believed to originate outside of the US.

Hanna, a former bookshop owner from Mississippi, backed a local photography project for young people, and another for troubled youngsters while he was in the town. A review by Gwent police concluded that Hanna had not committed any offences while he was in Wales.

In addition to a 60-year sentence for producing child pornography in June, Hanna was jailed for a further 60 years this week after admitting three counts of rape, the Western Mail reported.

US detectives questioned him about his association with former DJ Alan Fossey who set up a community station in the town and was jailed in 2006 for a series of child porn offences, according to the BBC.

Arkansas district attorney Conner Eldridge said: "Crimes against children victimise the most vulnerable in our communities. The defendant in this case produced child pornography by preying on several minor girls, some as young as 13 years old. With this sentence, he has been held accountable for these crimes.”