Spontaneous combustion a myth, Cassidy tell inquest
Published 24/11/2011 | 05:00
THE state pathologist has described the idea of spontaneous combustion as a "myth" enjoyed by fiction writers.
Professor Marie Cassidy was speaking at Dublin Coroner's Court during the inquest into the death of Declan Dowling (59), of Bulfin Gardens, Inchicore, who was found dead on March 7 this year.
He died as a result of extensive burns with a toxic level of alcohol in his blood stream. His death had the appearance of spontaneous combustion.
Mr Dowling's cousin Albert Reeves raised the alarm after becoming concerned that he had not called around to his house that morning to return money borrowed the previous Friday.
Garda Robert Fitzharris accompanied Mr Reeves to his cousin's house and broke down the door.
He discovered Mr Dowling in the back room of his house lying on the floor in a crouched position.
His fingertips and clothing were burnt, as was his stomach which had its insides exposed. The area around him was undisturbed and there was no significant source of air to fuel a fire.
Prof Cassidy carried out the post-mortem. She found burns on his head, stomach and thighs and the abdomen.
She said Mr Dowling had inhaled no smoke -- suggesting that he was dead before the fire started.
However, she added that he was a heavy smoker and it was likely he had been unconscious when his clothing caught fire.
She described spontaneous combustion as a myth and a theory that has not been valid for 500 years. Coroner Dr Brian Farrell returned a verdict of death by misadventure.
Spontaneous combustion hit headlines earlier this year when West Galway Coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin declared that a 76-year-old pensioner had died as a result of the phenomenon. Speaking outside the court, Prof Cassidy said that spontaneous 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 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," she said.