An Irish coroner has ruled that a pensioner found dead at home perished as a result of spontaneous human combustion, in what is believed to be the first such case in the country's history.

Michael Faherty's charred remains were discovered in his living room in Ballybane, Galway, three days before Christmas last year.

The 76-year-old was found lying on his back with his head near an open fireplace.

But forensic experts concluded that the fire was not the cause of the blaze that killed him. Nor did they find any accelerants at the scene and there was no evidence that anybody had entered or left.

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Baffled detectives said the only clues they could find were a scorched ceiling and floor around the badly burned corpse. The rest of the house had sustained only smoke damage.

The coroner, Dr Ciaran McLoughlin, said he had never encountered such a case in his 25-year career. He had scoured medical books but could find no reasonable explanation for Faherty's death other than spontaneous human combustion.

He said his suspicions were bolstered after stumbling across one textbook by the forensic pathologist Professor Bernard Knight who claimed such cases were almost always found near a fireplace or chimney.

There have been only a handful of cases recorded worldwide in the past 300 years. The last suspected case in the UK was in 1982 when Jeannie Saffin was said to have spontaneously combusted at her kitchen table in front of shocked family members in Edmonton, north London.

- Independent