Man guilty of trying to steal 'priceless' Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral

30 January 2020, 18:23

Mark Royden smashed into the Magna Carta's security case
Mark Royden smashed into the Magna Carta's security case. Picture: PA

By Megan White

A man has been found guilty of trying to steal a “priceless” version of the Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral.

Mark Royden smashed into the security case containing the relic using a hammer, causing almost £15,000 of damage, on 25 October 2018.

The trial heard that Royden made an "odd prepared statement" to police during which he "doubted the authenticity" of the Magna Carta.

Salisbury Cathedral's version of the Magna Carta is one of four that remain in existence from the original 1215 charter.

The 47-year-old, from Canterbury, Kent, was convicted of attempted theft of the Magna Carta and causing criminal damage to the display case at Salisbury Crown Court on Thursday.

Magna Carta CCTV

After his attack on the case, Royden was pursued by "good-spirited" members of the public including a pair of American tourists, cathedral staff and stone masons - who detained him in a works yard outside.

In his statement to police, Royden’s comments included: "You can't talk to me about the holy grail so to speak, if you find a bag on the floor which says cocaine on it, you would have to test that bag forensically, as for your holy grail, you would need a carbon test and a trace element test."

Judge Richard Parkes QC told the jury: "There is an irony that the charter of the Magna Carta that this defendant is charged with attempting to steal states that no free man may be imprisoned other than by the lawful judgment of his peers.

"It still holds good and is in the process of the court right now.

"We are not concerned with the authenticity of Salisbury Cathedral's Magna Carta, it's a state document of huge significance and one of four dating back to 1215 and the meeting of King John and the barons of Runnymede."

Mark Royden, wearing yellow gloves, inside Salisbury Cathedral
Mark Royden, wearing yellow gloves, inside Salisbury Cathedral. Picture: PA

Judge Parkes asked for a pre-sentence report to be prepared on the defendant and said: "The reality is that it's overwhelmingly likely that Mr Royden is going to an immediate sentence of custody.

"I take the view there was significant planning."

He remanded Royden in custody until sentencing on February 25.

The court was told that Royden has 23 previous convictions covering 51 offences, including theft and criminal damage.

The defendant, who suffered brain damage in a car accident in 1991, is subject to a court of protection order regarding his finances and is aided by a carer.

King John issued the Magna Carta after agreeing peace terms with a band of rebel barons, and it is now one of the world's most celebrated legal documents.

It established for the first time that neither monarch nor government was above the law and set out principles of liberty.

The Salisbury copy went back on display three months after the incident, with the damaged case being made part of the exhibition telling the document's history.