LONDON (AFP) — A man appeared in an English court on Monday charged with attempting to steal a priceless original 1215 version of the Magna Carta.
Mark Royden, 47, is accused of trying to smash the protective glass case with a hammer in a bid to steal the document from Salisbury Cathedral in southwest England.
Royden claimed his actions on October 25, 2018, were motivated by doubts about the manuscript’s authenticity, Salisbury Crown Court was told.
The charter has defined rights and liberties around the world.
Four original copies from 1215 remain in existence: two in the British Library in London, one at Salisbury Cathedral, and one at Lincoln Cathedral, in eastern England.
Royden “set out on that day to steal the Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral and his attempt failed and it failed for two reasons,” prosecutor Rob Welling told the court.
“The first is the safety glass protecting such an important historic document was just too tough for the tool he brought.
“Secondly, he did not bank on there being so many good-spirited visitors and members of staff who would be willing to intervene and he was caught and detained despite trying to get away.”
Whiff of alcohol
Visitors, including U.S. tourists, joined a member of staff in attempting to contain Royden, but the defendant, who was described as smelling of alcohol, threatened them with a hammer.
He ran off through a goods yard but was chased and caught by cathedral stonemasons, a jury was told.
Welling told jurors that Royden said he “could have done more damage if he had a samurai sword” and “made some other comments about Muslims, tasers and having some object strapped to his back”.
The prosecutor said Royden later made an “odd prepared statement” to police.
“It appears he is doubting the authenticity of the Magna Carta,” Welling said, with Royden telling officers: “‘As for your holy grail, you would need a carbon test and a trace element test’.”
Royden denies one count of attempted theft and a second charge of criminal damage to the security case costing $18,900.
The case is expected to last all week.
In June 1215, the despotic king John accepted the demands of rebellious barons to curb his powers.
Considered the cornerstone of freedom, modern democracy, justice and the rule of law, the Magna Carta forms the basis for legal systems across the globe.
© Agence France-Presse