Saturday, 24 September 2011


The victim`s home
A MAN who burnt to death in his own home died from spontaneous human combustion in what is believed to be the first case of its kind in the country.

Michael Faherty (76) -- also known as Micheal O Fatharta -- died as a result of the phenomenon, spontaneous human combustion, according to west Galway coroner Dr Kieran McLoughlin.

 He said it was the first time in his 25 years of investigating deaths that he had returned such a verdict

An experienced garda crime scene investigator and senior fire officer both told Mr Faherty's inquest in Galway that they could not explain how he came to be burnt to death. Nor had they come across such an event before.

Assistant chief fire officer Gerry O'Malley said fire officers were satisfied that, after a thorough investigation, an open fire in Mr Faherty's fireplace was not the cause of the blaze which led to his death.

No trace of an accelerant was found at the scene and there was no sign that anyone else had entered or left Mr Faherty's home at 64 Clareview Park, Ballybane, Galway city.

The inquest heard that the smoke alarm in the home of Mr Faherty's neighbour, Tom Mannion, had gone off at about 3am on December 22 last year.

In his deposition, Mr Mannion said he went outside and saw heavy smoke coming from Mr Faherty's house.

He banged on the front door, but got no response and then banged on the door of another neighbour. Gardai and the fire brigade arrived quickly on the scene.

Garda Gerard O'Callaghan said he had gone to the house after the fire had been extinguished and found Mr Faherty lying on his back in a sitting room, with his head closest to an open fireplace.

The fire had been confined to that and the rest of the house sustained only smoke damage. No accelerants had been found and there was nothing to suggest foul play.

In reply to the coroner, Gda O'Callaghan said the only damage was to the remains, to the floor underneath him and to the ceiling above. The body had been totally burnt.

Dr McLoughlin asked the garda if he had ever seen anything like this and he replied "no". The inquest heard that fire officers were unable to determine the cause or the origin of the fire that killed Mr Faherty.

Asked if he had ever seen anything like it, Mr O'Malley replied, "I can't say that I have."

Pathologist Professor Grace Callagy noted in her post-mortem findings that Mr Faherty had suffered from Type 2 diabetes and hypertension but she concluded he had not died from heart failure.

His body had been completely cremated, and because of the extensive damage to the organs, it had not been possible to determine the cause of death.

The coroner said he was satisfied nobody had entered or left the house.

While a fire had been burning in the fireplace in the home, he was also satisfied that the fire itself was not the cause of the blaze that had burnt the deceased.

Dr 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."

Afterwards, Ms Faherty's daughter, Mairin, said that the family were satisfied with the extent of the investigation.


There have been a number of documented cases where police have found corpses burned almost to ashes but no burned furniture around them.

Temperatures of 3,000 degrees would be required to burn a human body to this extent, yet in these cases only smoke damage is reported.

Puzzled scientists have come up with the ‘wick theory’ to explain such events. The theory is that the human body can become an ‘inside out’ candle.

The person’s clothes are the wick, while their body fat is the wax or flammable substance, that keeps the blaze going. Limbs may be left intact because of the temperature gradient, with the bottom half of the body
being cooler than the top.

A grisly aside is that greasy stains left after such an event could be a residue for the person’s body fat.
The combustion would not be ‘spontaneous’ however, because it would need an external source to start it off, such as a cigarette. Some have postulated that static electricity could cause the needed spark.

Home Office pathologist Professor Michael Green told the BBC in 2005: ‘The way the body burns - the so-called wick effect - seems to me and to my colleagues to be the most scientifically credible hypothesis.’
A body would take around five hours to burn in this way to ashes.

Victims are often elderly, sick, or under the influence of alcohol, which might explain why they would not have been able to escape.
Source: Irish Independent and Daily Mail
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