A thief tried to steal a copy of the Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral because he was convinced it was a fake, a court has heard.
Mark Royden, 47, meticulously plotted to remove the 13th century document from the Chapter House of the cathedral in Wiltshire because he “doubted its authenticity” , Salisbury Crown Court was told.
Royden allegedly scouted out the positions of CCTV cameras and the layout of the building before attempting to smash open the reinforced display case with a hammer to retrieve the historic human rights treaty.
Wearing gloves and a hood, he is said to have set off a fire alarm to cause confusion but was tackled by “good spirited” bystanders, including a stonemason and a pair of American tourists, as he tried to leave the works yard.
Staff members helped to restrain Royden who allegedly raised his hammer in a “threatening manner” during his foiled escape attempt on October 25, 2018.
In a prepared statement given to the police following his arrest, Royden wrote: “You cannot talk to me about the Holy Grail. If you find a bag on the floor which says 'cocaine' on it, you would have to test it forensically.
“As for your Holy Grail, you would need a carbon test and a trace element test. Places you go to and churches all over the world claim to have artefacts.”
Rob Welling, prosecuting in the week-long trial, said: “It appears he is doubting the authenticity of the Magna Carta.”
“His defence is that whoever set out to steal it was not him, that he was in the wrong place at the same time. This is a desperate attempt to avoid the consequences,” Mr Welling added.
Salisbury Cathedral's 800-year-old copy of the Magna Carta, thought to be worth around £20 million, is the best preserved of only four surviving original exemplars in the world.
It was written immediately after the rights were formally agreed at Runnymede and sent out across the country as evidence of the decision.
King John issued 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.
The document established for the first time that neither monarch nor government was above the law and set out principles of liberty which echoed through the centuries.
Mr Royden, of Canterbury, Kent, denies a charge of attempted theft and a second count of criminal damage to the security case costing £14,466.
The trial continues.