A Belfast professor believes his research proves that the remains of the famous Victorian author Charles Dickens were effectively "body-snatched" by two men for their own selfish gain.
Dickens, often regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era, was buried in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey in 1870 - despite his wish to be laid to rest close to his country home in Gad's Hill Place, Kent.
After three years of research, Queen's University professor Leon Litvack (59), who specialises in Victorian studies, has suggested that Dickens' best friend, John Forster, and the Dean of Westminster Abbey, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, plotted to have the author's remains buried at Poets' Corner after his death.
The accepted explanation is that public pressure demanded that Dickens was buried in a place befitting a national treasure.
However, Professor Litvack, who moved to Northern Ireland from his native Toronto in Canada in 1991 to take up his role at Queen's, was first drawn to the theory that Forster and Penrhyn were solely responsible, after a close friend flagged up an odd letter he located in a Texan library.
It's quite extraordinary that the letter is dated the same date that Dickens diedProfessor Leon Litvack
"He sent the letter to me because at the head of the letter somebody had written 'Dickens' death' and because I'm the principal editor of the Charles Dickens Letters Project he asked me to read the handwriting," he explained.
"This letter was from Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, who was the Dean of Westminster in the 1870s.
"The Dean of Westminster was the leading figure in Westminster Abbey so the Dean had met Dickens in 1870, the year Dickens died, and he says in this letter that he would be prepared to bury Dickens.
"It's quite extraordinary that the letter is dated the same date that Dickens died.
"He says at the end that he was glad he had the opportunity to meet Dickens while he was alive and that he's 'quite prepared to raise any proposals about the burial that may be made to me'.
"That started me thinking that this guy, who is the leading man at Westminster Abbey, on the same day that Dickens dies, writes a letter to his brother-in-law that he would welcome any invitations to have Dickens buried in Westminster Abbey."
Professor Litvack also highlights the role which was played by Forster, who was Dickens' biographer.
He argues in his research for a new book called 'Reading Dickens Differently', that Forster wanted to defy his friend's final wish to be buried close to home so that he could have the perfect ending for his book.
"That was in the interest of these two people," he added.
"John Forster, because he could have the best possible ending to his biography in that Dickens ends up in this national shrine. Stanley was in charge of who got buried at the Abbey. Stanley was very proud of the famous Victorians whom he had conducted the funeral services for as he did for Dickens.
"I'm saying that these two individuals, one of whom was very close to Dickens and one of whom was in charge of Westminster Abbey, together engineered to have Dickens buried there for their mutual benefit."
June will mark the 150th anniversary of the great author's death and Dickens devotees will gather at his Westminster Abbey resting place to lay a wreath in his honour.