Readers of this blog may recall the 2018 attempted theft by Mark Royden of Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of Magna Carta. Reports confirm that Royden attacked the document’s protective case before being pursued by members of the public, including American tourists, cathedral staff, and stonemasons, who detained him in a works yard outside.
In a welcome example of a criminal court’s willingness to mete out punishment for a substantial attempted heritage crime, following his conviction earlier this year, last week judge Richard Parkes QC sentenced Royden of Canterbury, Kent to a four-jail term for his attempted theft of the charter and criminal damage to the display case.
Reports suggest that when interviewed, Royden explained his actions by saying that he doubted the authenticity of the cathedral’s version of Magna Carta. It is not clear whether there is any basis for Royden’s assertion.
Handing down sentence to the serial offender (it is reported that Royden has 23 previous convictions for offences including theft and criminal damage), judge Parkes said:
“This was a determined attempt on a document of huge historical important to our country and many other countries that share our democratic traditions”.
Paying tribute to the role played in the drama by bystanders, including the cathedral’s clerk of works and a visitor from Louisiana, Parkes hailed their “courageous” acts and called on the high sheriff of Wiltshire, Major General Ashley Truluck, to make financial awards of £500 and £1,000 respectively. Parkes added that this is “a story of a few people acting alertly and bravely and they deserve our sincere thanks”.
The court was not called upon to decide the authenticity of Salisbury Cathedral’s Magna Carta, but was keen to emphasise that this is a
“state document of huge significance and one of four dating back to 1215 and the meeting of King John and the barons at Runnymede”.
The Salisbury Magna Carta was checked for damage in 2019. It is thought that the charter escaped the attack unscathed.
This conviction and custodial sentence recognises the far-reaching consequences of heritage crime and its impact on the shared culture, history and experience which shapes communities and nations.
This is a clear example of the application of ordinary provisions of criminal law to cultural and heritage crime. Readers of this blog will, however, recall that following new guidance from the UK Sentencing Council, from 1 October 2019 courts must take into account the damage wrought on heritage assets and cultural property by criminal damage. Since the damage in this case was sustained by the protective frame rather than the charter, the court was probably not required to apply the guidance in this case.
Magna Carta forms part of the constitution of the UK and enshrines the right of a person to be tried by their peers, a point not lost on judge Parkes, as he reminded the jury.
(Image credit: Antony McCallum via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)