Irish State Pathologist: Spontaneous human combustion a “myth”

When, in September, west Galway coroner Dr Ciarán McLoughlin ruled that a 76-year-old pensioner had died as a result of spontaneous human combustion it was, unsurprisingly, widely covered

Today’s Irish Times notes the comments of Irish State Pathologist, Prof Marie Cassidy, at a separate inquest at Dublin Coroner’s Court where she is reported to have said that spontaneous combustion was “a myth and a theory that has not been valid for 500 years.”  From the Irish Times report

Prof Cassidy said outside the court that spontaneous human combustion was a “misnomer”.

“It captures everybody’s imagination, this idea that somebody suddenly erupts into flame.

“The pattern is unusual in that the fire is localised to the body and the immediate surrounds because most fires that we deal with cause extensive damage to the fabric of the building, the body and everything else that is associated with it,” she continued.

“Because of that, this name tripped off the tongue. It goes back to Charles Dickens in Bleak House, where he describes a man dying with spontaneous combustion,” Prof Cassidy added.

But it shouldn’t trip off the tongue of a coroner, particularly when others might believe such rulings have authority.  Just because investigators can’t find evidence of the source of a fire doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a source of some kind.  Whether that should mean, possibly, an open verdict or death by misadventure is another matter.

[So no champagne dinner then? – Ed]  No.

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