Court finds pensioner's death in fire caused by spontaneous combustion

A CORONER’S court has heard how a man who died in a fire in his house three days before Christmas had spontaneously combusted…

A CORONER’S court has heard how a man who died in a fire in his house three days before Christmas had spontaneously combusted.

The case was outlined in Galway yesterday, where an inquest into the death of a pensioner heard how investigators were baffled as to how Michael Faherty had died.

A verdict was returned that the man died of a phenomenon called spontaneous human combustion.

Mr Faherty (76), originally from Connemara, died at his house at Clareview Park, Ballybane, Galway, on December 22nd.

West Galway corner Dr Ciarán McLoughlin said he had never encountered such a case in the 25 years that he had been investigating deaths in the region.

Forensic experts found that a fire in the fireplace of the sittingroom where the badly burnt body was found was not the cause of the blaze that killed Mr Faherty.

The court was told that no trace of an accelerant had been found and there was nothing to suggest foul play.

Garda Gerard O’Callaghan said he had gone to the house after the fire had been put out and found Mr Faherty lying on his back in a small sittingroom, with his head closest to an open fireplace.

He said the fire had been confined to the sittingroom and the rest of the house sustained only smoke damage. The only damage was to the body, which had been totally burnt, the ceiling above him and the floor underneath.

The alarm had been raised by a neighbour, Tom Mannion, when a fire alarm went off at about 3am on December 22nd.

Assistant chief fire officer Gerry O’Malley told Dr McLoughlin two experienced fire officers believed the fire had not spread from the fireplace. They could not determine the cause of the blaze.

Pathologist Prof Grace Callagy said Mr Faherty had last been seen two to three days before his body was found.

She said the body had been cremated and it had not been possible to determine the cause of death because of the extent of damage to the organs.

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.

“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,” he said