Man arrested trying to steal Britain's Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathedral

The shattered glass box of the Magna Carta after a man tried to steal it
The shattered glass box of the Magna Carta after a man tried to steal it Copyright Wiltshire Police
Copyright Wiltshire Police
By Pauline Bock
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A man was arrested after he tried to steal the British charter, signed in 1215.


A man was arrested in Salisbury, England on October 25 for attempted theft of the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta is one of the most important documents in British history: the text, a peace treaty agreed between English barons and King John in 1215, is considered Britain's most fundamental legal document.

“Shortly before 5 p.m. yesterday (Oct 25) alarms were activated at Salisbury Cathedral after an attempt was made to smash the glass box surrounding the Magna Carta,” Wiltshire police said.

No damage was done to the Magna Carta in the incident.

The document kept in Salisbury Cathedral is one of only four existing copies of the charter.

The man, 45, was in “possession of an offensive weapon” and smashed the glass box in which the 803-year-old charter is kept. A photo released by Wiltshire police showed the glass shattered.

Witnesses of the incident described the weapon like a hammer, telling the Salisbury Journal: “We heard some shouting and could see a few people coming out of the gates so we stopped. It looked like some men ‘play-fighting’ but as they got through the gates I saw a hammer drop to the floor and one of the men kicked it into the road whilst another man held on to him.”

The book will be removed from public viewing, for the time being, the Salisbury Cathedral said.

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 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.”

The suspect has been taken into custody for questioning in Melksham, according to Wiltshire police.

People on social media made jokes about the similarities between the incident and the film National Treasure (2004), in which an explorer played by Nicolas Cage steals the US Declaration of Independence to decode the treasure map hidden on the back of the document.

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