US tourists helped thwart theft of Magna Carta from English cathedral

A group of American tourists, along with members of the British public, stopped the theft of the Magna Carta in Salisbury Cathedral.

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Mark Royden, 47, is accused of starting a fire within the cathedral to cause a distraction and attempting to steal the Magna Carta. After causing dysfunction within the building, Royden, a Canterbury resident, is accused of running to smash the document's protective case with a hammer.

Rob Welling, a lawyer prosecuting Royden, told a Salisbury court that American tourists notified others of the attempted theft. "He's trying to steal the Magna Carta, stop him!" he said they cried. Royden struggled with several individuals before attempting to flee the cathedral. He was caught by a few stonemasons working outside.

Royden told them, "Your security's sh-t."

Welling told the court that Royden had failed to steal the document because the protective glass surrounding it was too strong for the hammer he brought. He also credited "good-spirited" visitors for intervening.

"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," Welling said.

The Magna Carta, or the the Magna Carta Libertatum, is a historic document presented to King John of England near Windsor in 1215. A group of 25 barons forced the king to place his royal seal on the charter, which curbed his power.

Salisbury Cathedral's 800-year-old copy is the best-preserved of the four surviving originals. Two copies are in the British Library and the other is at Lincoln Cathedral.

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