herald

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Mum died in 'spontaneous combustion' house blaze

A SECOND case of spontaneous human combustion may have been identified in Ireland.

Gardai said that Elizabeth McLaughlin (50) died in a blaze that was "unusually confined".

The mum-of-three was so badly burned that she had to be identified by her dental records, a coroner's court heard.

Ms McLaughlin's devastated partner Harry Masterson told the inquest: "It seems to me that it was spontaneous human combustion, which I know is unusual. It was just terrible, I would not wish it on anyone."

It comes just months after another Irish coroner ruled that the death of Michael Faherty (76) in Galway was due to this bizarre phenomenon.

Expert fire officers in this case said that they did not believe the fire had spread from the fireplace and the only damage was to the body.

Similarly in the case of Ms McLaughlin in Carndonagh, Co Donegal on December 22, gardai said that that they were perplexed by the death.

Sgt John McLaughlin said: "Inside the sitting room, on the floor, were the charred remains of the person.

"An unusual aspect was that the actual burning and fire damage were confined to the human remains on the floor and the immediate vicinity."

Ms McLaughlin's nephew Kevin Loftus first came upon the grim scene.

He said there were three dead cats in the house and a smell of smoke when he gained access on December 31 last year.

"I saw what I thought was a burned Christmas tree lying on the sitting room floor," he said.

It was not until her niece Dolores identified Ms McLaughlin's clothes that it became clear.

"She said 'there is her shoe'. It was then I realised it was a leg. I could not believe what I was seeing," Mr Loftus said.

Donegal Coroner Dr John Madden said that when he first reviewed the case spontaneous human combustion "did come to mind". But he said it was probably an "urban myth".

The jury returned a verdict of death by fire.

clairemurphy@herald.ie

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