SALISBURY Cathedral was evacuated yesterday afternoon after someone "tried to smash the case of the historic Magna Carta", in what police believe was an attempted theft of the document.

A 45-year-old man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted theft, possession of an offensive weapon and criminal damage, and has been taken to Melksham custody for questioning, where he remains.

The Journal understands this was a result of a visitor to the cathedral "smashing the case of the Magna Carter with a hammer and trying to destroy it".

Crowds could be seen in the Close after someone manually started the fire alarm to alert others to the incident.

The Magna Carta has not been damaged and nobody was injured in the incident, but the document has now been removed for safe-keeping. 

Salisbury Journal:

The damaged Magna Carta case

One witness, Jenny from Salisbury, was walking through the Close at the time of the incident and says she saw a citizen's arrest taking place. 

She told the Journal: "We were walking past the cathedral as the alarms started, and everyone was starting to come out.

"As we got to the stonemason's gateway 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.

"They then held onto him with hands behind his back whilst they picked up the hammer - lots of people around started to come over

"The men really did a good job."

A spokesman for Salisbury Cathedral said: "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."

Fire crews were called at 4.53pm, but dispatched by just after 5pm as there was no fire lit.

Magna Carta 1215 is the best surviving copy of one of Britain's most influential legal documents, and is on permanent display at Salisbury Cathedral. 

It is regarded by historians as the foundation of constitutional liberty in the English-speaking world.

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.