A 45-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of trying to steal a £20million Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire Police said.
Detectives questioned a man today following an attempt to steal the manuscript after smashing its glass case with a hammer.
The historic document dating back to 1215 and described as the ‘best original’ out of the four copies made, was enclosed in a glass case in the cathedral and had been on view for the tens of thousands of visitors who visit every year.
Police said that they had been alerted after someone smashed the glass case and after arriving at the cathedral, they conducted a thorough search of the grounds and arrested a 45-year-old man on suspicion of trying to steal the Magna Carta. It has been removed from display while police investigate the attempted theft.
An alarm sounded when somebody smashed the glass case surrounding the Magna Carta (pictured, the damaged display)
Crowds gathered at Salisbury Catherdral as emergency services descended on the scene after somebody tried to steal the Magna Carta
Raymond Molin-Wilkinson, 66, of Salisbury, Wilts, was taking pictures around the city when he saw a group of around 100 people evacuated from the cathedral.
‘I was just outside the building when it happened,’ he said. ‘There was suddenly an evacuation I think – there was an alarm going in the building.
‘The fire brigade and police arrived on the scene, and the police went to the back door of the building and took a gentleman away in the back of their van.
‘There were about 100 people standing outside the cathedral a mixture of tourists and choristers in their blue gowns.
‘They seemed to be quite calm, with many of the drinking coffees and still eating their cakes from the cathedral café – I think they thought it was just a false fire alarm.
‘They were there for about an hour – it was around 6pm that they were allowed back inside the cathedral.’
Police rushed the Salisbury Cathedral (pictured) when an alarm sounded because the glass case surrounding the manuscript was smashed
A spokesman for Wiltshire Police said: ‘A 45-year-old man is in custody this morning arrested on suspicion of the attempted theft of the Magna Carta.
‘Shortly before 5pm yesterday alarms were activated at Salisbury Cathedral after an attempt was made to smash the glass box surrounding the Magna Carta. Staff were alerted and police were called.
‘A man matching the description given by witnesses was arrested on suspicion of attempted theft, possession of an offensive weapon and criminal damage and has been taken to Melksham Police custody for questioning. He remains there,” said the spokesman.
‘The Magna Carta has not been damaged and nobody was injured in the incident. We are aware there were a number of witnesses to the incident who may not have spoken to police.
‘If this was you, please get in touch via 101 and quote crime reference number 541800101438.’
The Magna Carta, Latin for Great Charter, was brought into law under King John of Runnymede on 15th June 1215,.
The document (pictured) has not been damaged and nobody was injured during the incident, Wiltshire police say
It was credited as being one of the first documents to limit the power of the crown.
The charter was imposed upon the king by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, and limited his powers on the likes of punishing a ‘freeman’, unless through the law of the land.
But the document didn’t last long, with Pope Innocent III annulling it in August 1215, because it was a ‘shameful and demeaning agreement, forced upon the King by violence and fear’.
After King John died, his successor Henry III thought it was a good idea and brought it back.
Three clauses of the 63 are still in force today – freedom of the English Church, the ancient liberties of the City of London and a right to due process.
It was written in Latin by hand, by an expert scribe, on parchment. The Magna Carta was not signed, but sealed, and at the bottom of our Magna Carta you can see the marks where King John’s seal was once attached.
There are just four remaining copies of the Magna Carta. Two are kept in the British Library, one is in Lincoln Cathedral and one at Salisbury Cathedral, which is the best preserved manuscipt.
Shortly after the originals were sealed, 250 copies were made but just 17 are thought to still exist.
How many original Magna Carta manuscripts are still in existence?
Eight centuries after King John sent copies of the first Magna Carta across his kingdom, just four remain.
Two of the survivors are kept at the British Library, were they lay alongside the other two copies which are found at Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals.
Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of the Magna Carta is said to be the best preserved of the four remaining original copies. It is housed in the cathedral’s Chapter House as part of an exhibition that received more than £400,000 of Heritage Lottery funding three years ago.
The two British Library copies came from the private library of the MP and and antique collector Sir Robert Cotton, whose collection of preserved documents laid the foundation for the library back in 1753.
One of these manuscripts was almost destroyed in a fire in 1731, suffering some damage but remaining largely intact.
Staff at the British Museum Library in the early 19th century also made it harder to read by using outdated techniques to flatten and mount the historic document.
The Salisbury Magna Carta has been at the Cathedral since the 13th century. It may have been deposited there by William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury and one of King John’s chief advisers, or it may have come from Elias of Dereham, who supervised the building of the Cathedral from the 1220s.
The manuscript has rarely left the Cathedral in its 800 year history.
The Lincoln Magna Carta has belonged to the Cathedral for 800 years. It is arriving at the British Library directly from the United States after going on display in Massachusetts and Washington, DC, where over 200,000 people viewed it.
On its return to Lincoln, the manuscript will move from the Cathedral into a new permanent home at the ‘Magna Carta Vault’ in nearby Lincoln Castle.
Source: British Library
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