Galway pensioner died from spontaneous combustionSeptember 23, 2011 - 7:15am
by Dearbhla Geraghty
The inquiry into the death of a 76 years old man found badly burned in his home just before Christmas last year, concluded yesterday that he had died of the unusual phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion.
Photographs taken in the aftermath of the fire at the home of Michael Faherty of Clareview Park, Ballybane, show a packet of matches sitting on the mantelpiece, which had escaped damage – as had most of the sitting room, where he was found.
Garda Gerard O’Callaghan of the divisional crime scene investigation unit who visited the preserved scene told the Inquest: “The ‘seat’ of the fire was around the body of Mr Faherty, and confined to this area – the rest of the house was smoke damaged.
“I took samples of the fire debris and forwarded them to the forensic science laboratory at Garda headquarters in Dublin to establish the presence of accelerants (eg. petrol, diesel, paraffin oil) – there were none found – and I found no evidence to suggest any foul play had occurred.”
The Coroner for West Galway, Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin, noted from the photographs taken by the senior Garda that there were items such as matches, a mobile phone, and a razor very obviously untouched by fire. He asked Garda O’Callaghan if he had ever witnessed anything like this before, and the reply was a firm ‘no’.
Pathologist, Dr Grace Callagy stated that, due to burning, Mr Faherty’s stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, kidneys, heart, and some of his bones – the fire would need to be between 700-1,000°C to cremate bones – were not present, and that toxicology examinations could not be carried out on his blood or urine for the same reason.
She said, however, that there was no evidence of oedema in the lung – which the coroner explained meant that he did not suffer a heart attack – and there was no evidence of a haemorrhage.
Significantly, Dr Callagy found no carbon material/soot in his trachea or a sample from his lung. “These suggest that he did not suffer from inhalation (smoke) injury and may not have been alive when the fire began,” she stated.
“The extensive nature of the burns sustained precludes determining the precise cause of death.”
Dr MacLoughlin told Mr Faherty’s family that he had given a lot of consideration to that very question. “I’d say that the death was thoroughly investigated by the most experienced fire experts in the country, and I’m of the view that it fits in with spontaneous combustion, for which there is no scientific explanation,” he said.
Dr MacLoughlin said afterwards that this was the first such case that he had come across in his 25 years as coroner for West Galway.
For more on this story, see the Galway City Tribune.