Jake Ormerod is believed to be part of a paedophile gang who used the popular website to groom schoolgirls before meeting up with them, plying them with drink and drugs and sexually abusing them.
Ormerod, of Babbacombe Road, Torquay, Devon, admitted 13 charges relating to eight girls as young as 13 in the Torbay and Teignbridge areas when he appeared at Exeter Crown Court yesterday.
Police involved with Operation Mansfield, which is investigating the abuse, said the gang targeted homeless children and also picked up girls outside schools in the area.
Thousands of parents were sent letters in February informing them that the operation was taking place, shortly before Ormerod was first arrested.
Torbay Council has set aside a budget of £240,000 to fund a specialist team of legal and social work staff from its Children’s Services Department to assist the police investigation, and has said it may bring in additional workers if required.
Up to 50 police officers are involved in the case, in which dozens of children have been interviewed.
Det Insp Simon Snell, who is leading Operation Mansfield, said Devon and Cornwall Police expected to make more arrests in connection with the paedophile group, who he said were well-known among homeless children living in the popular English Riviera tourist area.
“They have been hanging around schools and they have been preying on young, vulnerable, missing children,” he said outside court.
“We have interviewed more than 40 children and I do not think we have finished yet. There may be more arrests to be made as the investigation focuses.
“Facebook is one of the features. Ormerod had an account and we are actively investigating the links that site provides us.”
He said the gang, of which Ormerod was part, would ply vulnerable girls with drink and drugs before abusing them at their homes, which were well known to homeless children in the South Devon area.
“They used Facebook and met them via the site. Slowly and surely they began to pretend that they were the boyfriends of the victims,” he added.
“But there is no way these girls could pretend to be the girlfriends of sex offenders.”
Ormerod, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, admitted 13 charges of sexual activity with a child, eight of which were carried out when he was aged under 18 and five when he was 18. The charges covered a period of more than three years. He pleaded not guilty to one charge, which was accepted by the prosecution.
Det Insp Snell said he was pleased that Ormerod’s victims had been spared the need to give evidence in a trial.
He added that police believe more victims are yet to come forward but that they may be scared of reprisals from their abusers.
He said: “We are still actively investigating. It might be that people are not coming forward because they might be intimidated by these offenders. We are anxious for them, if they have been victims, to come forward and we will deal with them in confidence.”
In March, a second man, aged 22, formerly from Torquay, was arrested in the Brierley Hill area of Dudley in the West Midlands on suspicion of rape and sexual activity with a child. He was later bailed without charge until June.
No members of Ormerod’s family were in court for the short hearing yesterday. But when he appeared at Exeter Crown Court in February, his mother, Janet Hoddy, 52, said: “I’m just worried sick. There’s no way my son could do any harm. He is there for me all the time. I’m disabled and he lives with me and does all my washing and shopping.”
Judge Philip Wassall ordered Ormerod to be remanded in custody ahead of a sentencing hearing on July 1.