A MEMBER of heavy metal group Iron Maiden is backing a campaign to free a 4ft handcarved stone penis from captivity.

Guitarist Janick Gers yesterday visited the Simply Dutch furniture shop, in Leeming Bar, near Bedale, North Yorkshire, which is at the centre of the campaign.

The store and its owner, Jason Hadlow, have been in the public eye since police confiscated the sandstone statue following complaints from members of the public.

Mr Hadlow, 46, was fined £80 and faces possible court action if he does not pay by Wednesday.

The story has received global attention, with Mr Hadlow receiving requests for interviews from as far away as Azerbaijan and the US.

A Free Willy campaign on networking website Facebook now has nearly 2,000 fans.

Mr Gers, 53, who was born in Hartlepool and is a regular customer at Simply Dutch, visited the store yesterday to see what all the fuss was about.

He was said to be “gobsmacked”

by the worldwide coverage of the story and the subsequent campaign.

Mr Hadlow said: “He could not quite believe it.

“I would not say there has been massive celebrity support, but it does not come as a surprise that music celebrities are coming out in support of the campaign.

“I have done interviews with radio stations all over the world.

“It is just astonishing the way that the story has gone viral.”

Mr Gers is said to have offered his full support to the campaign and told Mr Hadlow he would support him any way he could.

Mr Hadlow said he had jokingly suggested staging a benefit concert in aid of the willy.

He said: “It would make a lot more sense for the police to return the thing, tear up the fine and put an end to it, then we can all get on with our lives.

“It is ridiculous and I cannot back down over this.”

For more information, visit free-willy.org.uk