Ex-churchman James Hennah who sexually abused teenage boy spared jail
A FORMER Bristol magistrate has been spared prison, despite sexually abusing a teenage boy.
James Hennah, who was also a lay pastor at the Bristol Community Church in Kingswood and a Bristol Grammar School counsellor, was given a suspended sentence at Exeter Crown Court yesterday.
The 39-year-old admitted two charges of sexually touching a boy and one of gaining sexual gratification by watching him do a "private act", having asked him to try on some new underwear.
Prosecuting, Emily Pitts told the court the offences had devastated the boy. His self-confidence had been shattered and he had lost trust in adults.
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In a statement to the court, the youngster said: "I never want to speak to him or see him again."
Ms Pitts described Hennah's actions as a "gross breach of trust" and she said when the boy's parents raised concerns with the church about Hennah's behaviour, they were initially "rebuffed".
Sentencing judge Recorder Peter Towler went further, by saying: "It seems as though the church were trying to cover it up, almost."
Before his arrest in October, Hennah, of Rossiter's Lane, St George, had been trusted and well-respected in a number of spheres. In his role at the church, based at Bourne Chapel on Waters Road, he ran programmes for young people for 15 years and was in charge of the youth ministry and worship team. As well as his role at BGS, the law graduate was a counsellor at another school and lectured in the field at Bristol University.
Mr Towler said it would not have been in the public interest to jail Hennah immediately, as the recommended sentence would be too short for him to get the treatment in prison he needs.
Instead he imposed a 26-week suspended sentence, with supervision and a 60-day rehabilitation programme.
For the next seven years, Hennah will be on the Sex Offenders' Register and subject to a Sexual Offences Prevention Order, which bans him from working or being in contact with anyone under 18, unless supervised by a responsible adult.
Condemning the "gross breach of trust", the recorder said: "You knew exactly where the boundaries of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour lay."
Mitigating, Paul Grumbar described Hennah's offending as a "momentary loss of control".
He added: "The consequences have been, as your honour knows, catastrophic. He has lost his job, his self-respect, he's lost everything."
Hennah was sworn in as a magistrate in October 2010, but resigned earlier this year. He is also no longer a school or university counsellor.
A statement issued after the case on behalf of the trustees of Bristol Community Church said: "James Hennah was relieved of all duties within the church pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings and has since resigned his position and is no longer an employee of the church. Furthermore, the leaders within the church who had been responsible for dealing with the concerns regarding James Hennah are also no longer a part of Bristol Community Church."