Magna Carta 'theft': Man 'tried to steal priceless document because he thought it was fake'

Mark Royden, right, is accused of attempting to steal Magna Carta. (PA)

A man accused of trying to steal a priceless version of Magna Carta believed it was a fake, a court has heard.

Mark Royden, 47, from Canterbury, Kent, is accused of using a hammer to smash the protective case to steal the 800-year-old document from Salisbury Cathedral in October 2018.

The cathedral houses one of only four exemplified copies of the historic charter, agreed to by King John in 1215.

It was put back on display in February 2019 following the alleged attempted theft.

Salisbury Crown Court heard that Royden attempted to steal the document after “doubting its authenticity”.

Rob Welling, prosecuting, told the court it was the actions of “good-spirited” members of the public that prevented his escape.

Salisbury Cathedral's copy of Magna Carta. (PA)

He said: “He set out on that day to steal the Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral and his attempt failed and it failed for two reasons.

“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.”

Mr Welling said that members of the public, including American visitors and a member of staff, attempted to contain Royden within a set of glass doors but he threatened them with a hammer.

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Leigh Chalmers, a cathedral outreach worker, told the court how she and others struggled with Royden and the glass door before pursuing him out of the cathedral.

She said: “The Americans were shouting, ‘He’s trying to steal the Magna Carta, stop him’, I was saying ‘Please, please stop him’.

Mark Royden denies trying to steal a copy of Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral. (PA)

“I was being brave, not stupid.”

Ms Chalmers said Royden ran off through a goods yard and was chased and caught by stonemasons working at the cathedral before he told them: “Your security’s s***.”

Mr Welling said that Royden, who was described as smelling of alcohol, made comments that he should “get a medal for what he had done” and “he could have done more damage if he had a samurai sword”.

He added: “He made some other comments about Muslims, Tasers and having some object strapped to his back.”

Mr Welling said Royden made an “odd prepared statement” to police and added: “It appears he is doubting the authenticity of the Magna Carta.”

The damage done to the case holding the copy of Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathedral. (PA)

Mr Welling said Royden had planned the attempted theft, having scoped out CCTV cameras and a fire alarm to set off as a distraction.

He had also brought with him yellow gloves, safety goggles and the hammer and had worn a hooded top and baseball cap, the court heard.

Mr Welling said Royden was recorded adjusting a CCTV camera in bid to prevent the incident from being captured.

Royden denies a charge of attempted theft and a second count of criminal damage to the security case costing £14,466.

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