A Scottish firm is behind a string of websites offering to write anything from school essays to PhDs for students for cash.

Clever Networks runs three so-called "essay mills" - a service condemned by Scottish universities as "acting immorally on all levels" - using an address in Lanarkshire and a Glasgow telephone number.

Despite offering to provide academic work to students in the UK the firm has no physical presence in Scotland and has never filed any accounts. It has, however, recently been advertising for employees in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

Clever Networks is one of more than 2500 Scottish Limited Partnerships (SLPs) formally registered at a former draper's shop on the Main Street of the mining village of Douglas, South Lanarkshire.

The Herald this week revealed that the same address was being used by another SLP named by Ukraine's elite anti-corruption police in a prosecution of officials accused of skimming nearly $2m from the export of arms to the Middle East.

This - and a series of other revelations that SLPs were being advertised in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union as "offshore companies" which pay no taxes has already prompted Oxfam to call for their reform.

Clever Networks, and its address at 44 Main Street, Douglas, is used as the contact details of the websites www.handmadewritings.com; www.writingsguru.com, both of which used a Scottish telephone contact number, and www.essaysusa.com, which gives a US number.

The Douglas base for SLPs

The Herald:

Handmade Writings boasts on its website that it is "plagiarism free".

The company, on its site, says it is "an online custom writing service, whose unique mission is to alleviate the educational burden of students worldwide through the services of our professional writers."

The company insists that it does not facilitate cheating and that under its terms of use it requires customers to acknowledge that they are using its work.

Scottish schools and universities, however, take a zero-tolerance attitude to such services.

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents all higher learning institutions in the country, said: "These ‘essay mills’ and other companies offering similar services are acting immorally on all levels.

"Universities are aware of this type of business and have software in place to detect plagiarism. Staff take all forms of academic dishonesty extremely seriously and are vigilant to plagiarism and cheating."

Students under pressure for a deadline, she added, should seek help in their own institutions. Liz Cameron, the Glasgow councillor responsible for schools, said: “Cheating in any form is wrong. I’m appalled that a company is advertising this service but I hope that our young people will have the sense to know not to contact them."

Liz Cameron

The Herald: Liz Cameron

A Herald reporter contacted Handmade Writings, using its Glasgow number, claiming to be a Scottish student asking for an essay. She asked where it was located. A representative said: "We are based in Scotland and we do any kind of academic paper or essays for customers worldwide."

Our reporter also contacted www.essayusa.com on a US number. She was told the business was based in Boston. A representative added: "We have a back office in the UK, some of our staff like management and development staff is located there but most of the company is located on the territory in the United States".

There was no reply at Writings Guru, which also has a Glasgow number.

As a limited partnership Clever Networks is allowed not to file accounts or pay tax in the UK if it does not trade in Britain. The Herald challenged Handmade Writings that it was offering a service in Scotland and asked why it had not filed accounts since it was incorporated in 2013. It declined to comment.

There are no partners recorded for the partnership at the UK's corporate register so there is no way of knowing who the ultimate beneficial owners of the business are. The company declined to comment.

The Herald, by email and phone, repeatedly asked Handmade Writings where it was located. In a written reply signed by "Josh and Chris", the website's executive management, the firm said: "We are an international company, officially registered in the UK.

"A misunderstanding here is that we don't have physical offices in the UK, we have a mailbox located in Scotland, for all the official correspondence.

"The facilities of our company are spread into several countries around the world.

"Each of them, obviously, is functioning under local laws and is the subject to local taxes, that is the only way you can employ people."

However, a Ukrainian employment website, joblog.com.ua, shows that this May Clever Networks was seeking internet employees in Kiev

In their written reply, Handmade Writings' "Chris and Josh" warned The Herald against "labelling" their work as "unethical". They referred to their terms of use which say "all Products are provided solely as examples of research, reference, and/or for you to learn how to properly write a paper in a particular citation style".

The terms of use add "if the customer is going to use materials we provide, he is required to reference the material we provided, indicating that our company is the owner of the material".

The address in Douglas belongs to a local business providing mailbox services which has no knowledge of the activity of the Scottish limited partnerships it hosts.

Additional reporting by Holly Lennon and Richard Smith

How this story appeared in print

The Herald: