CLAIMS that Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle murdered a friend to hide a literary scandal have finally been laid to rest – by a church court.
The Exeter Diocese Consistory Court has blocked a bid to exhume the remains of Devon journalist and writer Bertram Fletcher-Robinson who died on January 21, 1907.
Claims had been made that Fletcher-Robinson was poisoned by Conan Doyle to cover up an adulterous affair the author had with his wife and to hide the fact that he stole the plot of the Hound of the Baskervilles from the journalist.
The accusations were the results of research carried out by former driving instructor Rodger Garrick-Steele who wanted to exhume the corpse from its place of rest at Ipplepen near Newton Abbot and test it for traces of poison.
Now Sir Andrew McFarlane, the chancellor of the ecclesiastical court, has ridiculed Mr Garrick- Steele's research and branded the historian "totally unreliable".
The theory that Conan Doyle murdered his friend to hide his plagiarism attracted worldwide attention from fans of the author.
At the time of his death it was recorded that Fletcher-Robinson, who was a Daily Express journalist, died at the age of 36 from typhoid fever and peritonitis following a visit to Paris.
But Mr Garrick-Steele claimed he had been murdered by an overdose of laudanum administered by his wife Gladys, who was engaged in an affair with Conan Doyle.
Not only did the theory implicate the adulterous pair, it also relied on a cover-up involving Gladys's brother, the doctor who signed the death certificate, the undertakers and the then rector of Ipplepen.
Having examined the evidence, Sir Andrew said: "This court has been driven to the conclusion that it cannot place any reliance on as assertion made by RGS which is not backed up by an independent piece of evidence or source. On the basis of the material that he has placed before this court he appears to be a totally unreliable historian."
Sir Andrew added that Mr Garrick-Steele had been able to allege murder, adultery, profiteering and plagiarism without fear of libel action as all those involved are dead.
Sixty objectors wrote to the diocese to protest against an exhumation, including the rector of Ipplepen, the parochial church council and the chairman of the Arthur Conan Doyle Study Group, Squadron Leader Philip Weller.
Mr Garrick-Steele's former colleague Paul Spiring, who is also a published author on Conan Doyle, made a separate application to have the body exhumed from St Andrew's Church at Ipplepen on the grounds that it would prove he had not been poisoned.
He said: "This all blew up three-and-a-half years ago and it's been apparent since then that Mr Garrick-Steele did not have much evidence to back up his claim.
"I had a team of experts ready to test the body, but that doesn't matter. The theory is discredited and it would have been a pointless exercise."
Mr Spiring's latest book – a biography co-written with Brian Pugh – is Bertram Fletcher Robinson: A Footnote to the Hound of the Baskervilles.
Mr Garrick-Steele was not available for comment.