Police say they have identified more than 20 children who have fallen victim to an alleged paedophile ring in Devon.
A man aged 19 was arrested in connection with the inquiry yesterday and was being held at a police station in Torquay for questioning.
Detectives said the operation involved at least 20 victims aged between 12 and 15, who are believed to be known to their attackers and may have been "groomed" through social networking websites. Devon and Cornwall Police have written to more than 16,000 parents with children at secondary schools in Torbay and Teignbridge to tell them about the investigation and to encourage other victims to come forward.
Det Insp Simon Snell, the senior investigator, said a team of 50 officers was looking into the offences committed, which varied from indecent assault to rape. He added: "None of the offences we are currently investigating have taken place in a school setting – none of them at all – and the community needs to understand that. Children are completely safe to walk the streets of Torbay. They are not being grabbed off the streets."
The offences took place in the Torbay area and came to light after agencies involved in childcare alerted police. Social workers are supporting the children who have been interviewed. No children have been taken into care, although two were already in care. Mr Snell added: "We are looking at other people and other arrests may follow in the coming days and weeks.
"The abuse could have been taking place over two or three years."