They may take our lives but they won't take Freedom

IT IS among the most loathed pieces of public art in Scotland and has been dogged by controversy since it was plonked at the foot of one of the nation’s greatest monuments.

After 16 months on the market, the unloved Freedom statue - placed close to the Wallace Monument in Stirling - has yet to find a buyer.

The 13-ton structure was put up for auction by its creator with an asking price of 350,000 as its current lease at the Wallace Monument neared its end.

A national advertising campaign was launched to announce the sale of the statue, created in the image of Mel Gibson’s portrayal of William Wallace. Letters were posted to wealthy businessmen across the world who it was thought would desire the unusual piece of movie memorabilia.

But the 13ft-tall sandstone figure, which experts estimate is worth about 100,000 at best, has not attracted a single bid, firmly cementing its reputation as the most controversial symbol of Scottish culture in recent times.

Now Brechin sculptor Tom Church is facing the prospect of being lumbered with the enormous statue in his garden.

He said he was surprised but far from worried that his creation has yet to attract a bid.

"I think it’s the price that’s putting people off, but it’s what it’s worth in my opinion," he said. "There’s been a lot of rumour that people are interested and I was told the Yanks would go crazy for it. But when it comes to the nitty-gritty, it seems no one is prepared to put their money where their mouth is.

"If I didn’t sell it, it wouldn’t really bother me. My family would love to keep it and it would be a fantastic thing to pass down through the generations. People feel very strongly about Freedom leaving Scotland, and if it were to stay they would be delighted."

Church, 59, began carving two blocks of sandstone as a form of therapy after he survived a triple heart bypass in 1996.

He was approached by tourism officials in Stirling who asked if they could relocate it to the Wallace National Monument.

But within weeks of it being hoisted into place, the statue was attacked with paint, it is believed, by angry locals who detested the Hollywood image of the legendary Scots patriot.

Its five-year lease was renewed after it expired in 2001 but tourist bosses have declined to extend it once more due to "financial restraints".

Church then decided to try to offload his creation with the launch of an international sale after he was advised the figure would be highly desirable among ex-pat communities in North America.

Mel Gibson is said to have remarked he was "flattered" that the piece had been carved in tribute to his 1996 movie version of Wallace’s struggle.

Church’s agent handling the sale, who declined to be named,

said: "We’ve had a lot of interest from agents for big companies to say they would be interested if the head could be changed because it looks like Mel Gibson. But Tom is hugely proud of it and would not change it at all.

"I can’t understand how the sale hasn’t taken off. When Freedom was first unveiled, the critics labelled it the biggest piece of iconic art to come out of Scotland in the 20th century.

"But I’m not disappointed by the sale so far. We’ve had 1,200 hits on the website and the statue continues to get people talking, so it really has made its mark."

A spokesman for the Stirling and Trossachs Tourist Board declined to comment.