Irish coroner rules: death by spontaneous human combustion


{jcomments off}An inquest has concluded that an Irish pensioner, found burnt to death at his home, died from spontaneous human combustion.

West Galway coroner Dr Ciarán McLoughlin gave a first ever spontaneous human combustion verdict in his 25-year career after a man was found dead in unexplained circumstances, saying there was no other adequate explanation as to how 76-year-old Michael Faherty could have burned to death.

Garda Gerard O’Callaghan reported that Mr Faherty’s badly burnt body was found lying on his back in a small sitting room, with his head closest to the fireplace.  Officer O’Callaghan told the coroner that the only damage was to Faherty’s remains, the floor underneath him and the ceiling above – the rest of the house had sustained only smoke damage.

Assistant chief fire officer, Gerry O’Malley, said fire officers were satisfied that an open fire in Mr Faherty’s sittingroom had not spread from the fireplace.  No traces of accelerant had been found and there was no evidence to suggest that anyone had either entered or left the deceased’s Galway home.  The inquest heard that fire officers were unable to determine the cause or origin of the fire.

An Irish police crime scene investigator and a senior fire officer informed the Galway inquest that Mr Faherty burning to death had no explanation – neither of them had come across such a set of circumstances before.

The inquest heard that a smoke alarm in Mr Faherty’s next door neighbour’s house had gone off at 3 a.m. on December 22nd of last year.   Neighbour Mannion said he went outside to discover thick smoke coming out of Faherty’s home, he banged loudly on Mr Faherty’s door but there was no reply.  Police and fire services arrived on the scene quickly but nothing could be done for the deceased.

State pathologist, Prof Grace Callagy, noted in her post-mortem findings that the body had been cremated and it was impossible to determine cause of death due to the extensive burning of the deceased’s body and organs.  Prof Grace Callagy said Mr Faherty had last been seen two to three days before his body was found. 

Dr McLoughlin said he had consulted medical textbooks and carried out other research in an attempt to find an explanation.  He said Prof Bernard Knight, in his book on forensic pathology, had written about spontaneous combustion and noted that such reported cases were almost always near an open fireplace or chimney.

McLoughlin said: “This fire was thoroughly investigated and I’m left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation.”