A COLLAPSED company headed by a Scottish Conservative party executive member is at the centre of a mystery surrounding 22 missing works of art.

The firm's private records reveal ownership of 50 pieces as investments, including paintings - but only 28 have been recovered, according to Ernst and Young, the administrator.

One of the company's directors is Jackson Carlaw, 44, the former vice-chairman of the Scottish Tories and a failed MSP candidate in Eastwood in May.

Glasgow-based Wylies (Automotive Services), a vehicle hire, leasing and fleet management business, was trading as Auto Contracts when it was placed in administration in February this year with the loss of 18 jobs after it failed to be sold as a going concern.

Mr Carlaw has written in detail to Ernst and Young about the subject, and his lawyers stressed yesterday: ''It may be that Messrs Ernst and Young are pursuing certain inquiries, but if so, they have no outstanding inquiries to our client.''

The solicitors' response came after Ernst and Young said: ''We can confirm all paintings at the company's premises at the date of our appointment were uplifted by our agents.

''As part of our ongoing work, we are investigating the whereabouts of a number of paintings which were listed in the company records but not at the company's premises when we were appointed.''

A former employee said: ''At the time of the collapse, comment among colleagues was that the pictures should be sold to help protect the company and jobs. The company should provide a full account of what has happened to the pieces of art.''

Mr Carlaw responded through his lawyers to inquiries by The Herald seeking an explanation for the alleged discrepancy in the number of art works.

They stressed he had co-operated with all inquiries made by the administrators, and had written in detail to Ernst and Young in August, with no response from them as yet.

They added: ''Specifically, our client has left none of their inquiries outstanding, neither has there been any suggestion of wrongdoing on his part from any source.''

The lawyers insisted all legitimate requests from the administrators would continue to be dealt with by Mr Carlaw ''in the proper way, and we see no reason why Mr Carlaw should supply any additional information to The Herald simply because they sought this under threat of publication''. The administrators for Wylies declined further comment on the grounds they did not want to jeopardise continuing inquiries.

Latest available accounts to December 2000 disclose under the heading Investments: ''Paintings, at a cost of (pounds) 69,028, were acquired by the company during the year from Wylies Ltd, a fellow subsidiary


Descriptions of the works have not been released, but are believed to include 10 still life paintings; five cameo pieces with maritime themes; three Glasgow and Edinburgh tenement scenes; three maritime sculptures on driftwood, and a painting of a naked woman.

Mr Carlaw was managing director of Wylies, the car dealership which later became FirstFord with eight franchises in the west of Scotland. It was put into receivership last


Ernst and Young was appointed joint administrator in February of Auto Contracts, of Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow. It anticipates preferential creditors will receive all money due, but dividends for principal unsecured creditors ''remains to be determined''.

Mr Carlaw stood for parliament in 1982. He was defeated in Glasgow Queen's Park by Helen McMahon.

He currently faces parental opposition to his appointment to lead a strategic review at Hutchesons' Grammar, the independent Glasgow school.

He resigned as a governor in July to take up the part-time post, and some parents are questioning how he can ensure the school ''remains at the forefront of modern educational expectations'' when two of his businesses have collapsed since November.