US tourist helps stop thief who tried to steal Magna Carta

LONDON (AP) — An American tourist from Louisiana helped stop a hammer-wielding thief who unsuccessfully tried to steal the Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathedral, working in tandem with a church employee to prevent the man from escaping.

Matthew Delcambre, of New Iberia, Louisiana, told The Associated Press that he and his wife Alexis were sightseeing in the southwestern English city when a man tried to shatter the glass encasing the precious manuscript in the church's Chapter House. After Alexis tried to raise the alarm to others, Delcambre and other bystanders banded together to try to hold the thief back behind the doors of the Chapter House.

When the thief pushed past them, the 56-year-old IT expert gave chase into an outer courtyard. He grabbed the man's arm near the courtyard gate and knocked away the hammer. A church employee tackled him and held him down.

"It wasn't me by myself," he said. "It was completely a group effort."

The Magna Carta, which was protected by two layers of thick glass, wasn't damaged.

Wiltshire police said Saturday that a 45-year-old man was freed on bail until Nov. 20 as officers continue their investigation.

Salisbury Cathedral's Magna Carta is one of four existing specimens of the 1215 charter that established the principle that the king is subject to the law. It is considered the founding document of English law and civil liberties and influenced the creation of the U.S. Constitution.

The document, Latin for "Great Charter" was short-lived. Despotic King John, who met disgruntled barons and agreed to a list of basic rights, almost immediately went back on his word and asked the pope to annul it, plunging England into civil war. It was re-issued after the king's death.

Even so, its importance cannot be underestimated, as it has inspired everyone from Mahatma Gandhi to Nelson Mandela. Matthew Delcambre, the director for the Center for Business & Information Technologies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said he has been a bit taken aback by the attention his efforts have earned, but told his story so that his efforts would not be exaggerated at the expense of others.

Of all those who played a part in corralling the thief, he credits his wife Alexis first and foremost, since it was she who noticed the thief coming out of the disabled bathroom wielding the hammer and tried to get help. He played down earlier reports which depicted him as the hero, and said the people who should get the credit are cathedral workers and volunteers who tried to protect the Magna Carta.

"The heroes are the staff employees of the cathedral who protected the document, helped catch the guy and helped retain him until the police got there," he said. "It was a team effort."