A 45-year-old man wielding a hammer was arrested after he attempted to break the glass box protecting the Magna Carta on display at Salisbury Cathedral in England.
Following silent alarms going off as the would-be thief tried to break through the glass box, staff members identified him, wrestled the man to the ground, and struggled with him for at least 10 minutes.
He was arrested on suspicion of attempted theft, possession of an offensive weapon, and criminal damage. Police told the media on October 26, 2018 that he remained in custody.
The 1215 document that established basic tenets of the rule of law in England was not damaged in the incident.
“The Magna Carta has not been damaged and nobody was injured in the incident,” Wiltshire Police said.
The Very Reverend Nick Papadopoulos told the BBC: “There were people around so the cry went up, it was pretty thick glass so it hadn’t yielded easily despite having a hammer hit it.”
“It was a great shock but everyone responded magnificently, both our staff and volunteers and members of the public. They raised a cry and he did not get away.”
The shocking attack took place just before Evensong, which is near to closing time at the visitor center.
Dean Papadopoulos said: “He had been carrying a hammer so our guys were very courageous.”
The edition at Salisbury Cathedral is one of only four copies of the original charter still in existence and is considered the best preserved of the four.
Salisbury Cathedral said in a statement: “We can confirm that at the end of the afternoon yesterday, a man attempted to break into the case which houses the Magna Carta in the cathedral’s chapter house. He was arrested by police shortly afterwards and taken into custody.”
“We are very relieved that no one was hurt during the incident and that the Magna Carta itself is undamaged. We are very grateful to all who dealt with the situation so swiftly and effectively. We are very sorry that, for the time being, our copy of Magna Carta will not be available to visitors and will have it back on display as soon as we can.”
Wiltshire police have not yet disclosed the man’s identity. Authorities did release a photo showing three holes had been punched into the glass, and they asked anyone who witnessed the crime to get in touch.
The charter has been removed for safe-keeping while the double-layer glass case is refurbished, Dean Papadopoulos said.
“The layer that is closest to the document itself was completely untouched by the individual concerned, but his hammer did do some damage to the initial glass screen,” he told the media.
A facsimile copy of the charter will be displayed, and the visitor center will re-open soon.
Magna Carta is a charter of rights agreed by King John in 1215. Several versions were sent around the country “as evidence of the King’s decision,” according to Salisbury Cathedral’s website.
Magna Carta outlined basic rights with the principle that no one was above the law, including the king of the land. It established the right to a fair trial, as well as limits on taxation without representation.
It inspired the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Only three clauses are still valid — the one guaranteeing the liberties of the English Church; the clause confirming the privileges of the city of London and other towns; and the clause that states that no free man shall be imprisoned without the lawful judgement of his equals,” according to the BBC.
The British Library has two of the other copies of the Magna Carta, as well as the key original documents which tell the Magna Carta story in 1215 including: the Articles of the Barons, the unique copy of the list of the barons’ demands which were reflected in Magna Carta; the papal document which declared Magna Carta null and void in August 1215, and a sealed copy of Henry III’s 1225 Magna Carta.