An Ilfracombe drug user who sexually abused three under-age girls after smoking cannabis with them has been told he will receive a long jail sentence.

Ryan Earls, 24, sought out and befriended vulnerable teenaged girls who formed part of a group he called his ‘sexy circle’.

He defied warnings from police to stay away from the girls, who were aged 13 to 15, and met them in public spaces in North Devon, including a park which overlooks Barnstaple police station.

He had sex with one girl in woodland on her 15th birthday after taking her for a walk on the Tarka Trail.

He touched another during a self-harming session at his bedsit in which they scratched each others’ names into their arms.

The victims and some other girls sent him indecent images of themselves which were found by staff on a laptop at the supported living project where he was living at the time.

The police and social services were aware of his contact with the girls but struggled to stop him because he had a psychological grip over them and refused to help the authorities.

Earls, of High Street, Ilfracombe, admitted nine counts of sexual activity with a child and one of making indecent images.

His case was adjourned for a week to allow the prosecution to obtain victim impact statements and he was remanded in custody by Judge David Evans at Exeter Crown Court.

He told him: “You will be receiving a significant immediate custodial sentence in due course.”

Mr David Sapiecha, prosecuting, said all the contact with the girls happened between 2011 and 2014 when the girls were all under age and Earls was living in bedsits in Bideford or Barnstaple and at supported accommodation.

The first girl was 14 to 15 when Earls had sex with her after they smoked cannabis together.

The sexual contact with the other girls was touching and kissing rather than full sex. They met at locations including Castle Mound in Barnstaple and a churchyard in the town.

Mr Sapiecha said: “One of the girls describes a group of friends known as the sexy circle where he manipulated the conversation towards sex and flirted with her and made her feel special when she was 13.

“She was upset and vulnerable and he began comforting her and kissing her. She trusted him and felt she was in love with him.”

Mr Sapiecha said Earls had continued contact with two of the girls despite police abduction orders and the use of cannabis had featured in all the offences.

Mr Richard Crabb, defending, said Earls had pleaded guilty on the basis that the only penetrative sex was with the first complainant and that the activity had taken place on a limited number of occasions.

He said the images had been sent to him by the girls either directly or on social media and were at the lowest level in scale of seriousness.