WHEN Eric Trevanion was found dead in his flat in 1913, to a bystander it may have seemed a simple case to close.

The wealthy Hove resident had overdosed on Veronal sleeping pills, thought to be a tragic accident.

But behind the scenes, prosecutors had other ideas.

The prime suspect was Albert Roe, a “close companion” of Eric who was set to inherit his £6 million fortune.

When Eric was laid on the autopsy table, 22 Veronal pills were found in his body.

An inquest was called to decide whether Eric had taken his own life or had his life taken from him.

But by the end of the trial the harried jury could not agree on a verdict, leaving the millionaire’s death a mystery.

More than a century later, LGBT historian Norena Shopland has pored over coroners’ reports and archives in a bid to shed light on the case for her book The Veronal Mystery.

What she found was scandalous: a conspiracy by the prosecutor and coroner to conceal Eric and Albert’s homosexual relationship, potentially letting the latter get away with murder.

“I wrote a short amount about Eric Trevanion in my first book, but after I finished it his story really began to bug me,” Norena said.

“I knew there was more to it.

“I went to The Keep archive in Brighton and they had four files from the coroner’s report which were absolutely shocking.

“One of the things I found was letters from the public prosecutor telling the coroner not to mention the couple’s homosexual relationship in court.

“But in another letter he told the coroner he believed the friend was directly implicated in Eric’s death.”

A number of key witnesses were not called to the inquest, including the executor of Eric’s will who had arranged for his possessions to be given to Albert weeks before his death.

Another potential witness from Swansea called Jack Campbell had expressed a desire to talk about Albert at the trial.

But a mysterious private detective found Jack and ordered him not to testify. He never turned up.

Every effort was made to conceal Eric and Albert’s relationship, even during witnesses’ speeches.

“At the trial, one of the nurses who cared for Eric was questioned by the coroner who asked about Eric and Albert’s relationship,” Norena said. “She didn’t want to say it out loud and asked to write it down, which she was allowed to do.

“She passed the note to the coroner, who said ‘we’re not going to do that’ and disregarded it.”

The note, eventually found by Norena, referred to Eric as Albert’s “wife”.

“It ties into the stereotypical view at the time there was a ‘butch’ and a ‘femme’ in homosexual relationships,” the historian said.

“Eric was quite flamboyant.

“They spent a lot of time talking about his appearance, he had lots of rings and dyed his hair.”

An anonymous letter sent to the inquest written by someone claiming to know Albert “intimately” even referred to him as an “Oscar Wilde”.

But the men’s relationship was never disclosed in open court.

And potential witnesses’ fears of being prosecuted for homosexuality prevented others from coming forward.

“This was 20 years after Oscar Wilde was sent to jail and well before any of the big prosecutions after the Second World War like Alan Turing,” Norena said.

“Really it’s quite a quiet part of history, which is what makes this conspiracy all the more surprising.”

By the end of the trial, the coroner instructed the jury to give a suicide verdict.

But they could not reach an agreement and an open verdict was returned, much to coroner Vere Benson’s anger.

Police records relating to the case have long since disappeared.

So does Norena believe Albert murdered Eric?

“I don’t think it was an accident and I don’t think it was suicide,” she said.