Former curator cleared in York's 'clash of the Roman legionaries'

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The Roman city of York has not witnessed scenes like it since the barbarians last mounted a challenge.

The present and previous curators of the city's Roman Bath House museum came to blows in a fight during which one of them wielded a sword and helmet, York Crown Court was told yesterday

The source of the conflict between Keith Mulhearn, who dresses up as Roman character Maximus Gluteus, and Graham Harris, who had succeeded him as curator of the museum. was Mr Mulhearn's belief that Mr Harris, in full costume during the "clash of the legionaries", as the incident became known, had stolen his replica Roman regalia.

Mr Mulhearn had contributed weaponry that he bought to the museum, which he ran for a Roman re-enactment group called The Lost Legion. Then the owners of the museum asked a rival re-enactment group and another Roman history enthusiast, Mr Harris, to run the place instead.

The former curator blamed the "disappearance" of some of the armoury on Mr Harris and his brother-in-law Martin Glover, and one of Mr Mulhearn's sons said he had seen Mr Harris walking around in a Roman outfit that Mr Mulhearn owned.

Mr Mulhearn armed himself with a Roman helmet and sword and, with two friends, decided on a confrontation, the court heard. Mr Harris's daughter, Joanne Harris, 33, said she saw him swearing at Mr Glover at the entrance to the museum, then saw Mr Glover's glasses fly into the room.

Mr Harris evidently did not fit the bill as a Roman soldier. "He is 58 years old and was awaiting a hip operation," his daughter said. "I gripped the handrail. I grabbed it on either side of the walkway so I was blocking [Mr Mulhearn]. He just grabbed my left wrist and then swung me round."

Ms Harris told the court that Mr Mulhearn lowered a helmet and picked up a £300 replica sword fromthe floor. "I was really terrified," she said. "He said, 'I bet this is another thing you've stolen from me.' My father acted calmly, which calmed me."

Mr Harris said he had been dressed as a Roman soldier to promote the museum. "I was starting to get changed when I heard these noises and then my daughter screaming," he said. "I heard Mr Mulhearn's voice. Then he came storming through. There were two Roman helmets on the table. One I had just taken off. He said, 'Is this one... you've taken from me?' He lifted the helmet with his right hand above his head."

Mr Harris agreed that most of the equipment belonged to Mr Mulhearn. The former curator insisted he had not been violent. "I picked up the two helmets to inspect them," he said. "They weren't mine and I noticed the sword and that was mine. I took it and left. I didn't say I was going to kill anyone." He was acquitted of affray and assault.

Mr Harris now runs the museum as a private business, and established a rival re-enactment group called the Sixth Legion.