How can a serious court return a verdict of "spontaneous human combustion"?

Discussion in 'Letting Off Steam' started by Brendan Burgess, Sep 23, 2011.

  1. Brendan Burgess

    Brendan Burgess Founder

    From today's Indo

    Man dies from spontaneous human combustion

    I can't believe that a public official could come to this conclusion in Ireland in the 21st century and that all the newspapers have reported it so uncritically.

    An elderly man is found with his head close to an open fire and they think that the body spontaneously combusted.

    There have been many reports over the years of SHC, but no one has ever witnessed it.

    They are usually elderly people.

    They are usually near fireplaces.

    Someone burning to death is a tragedy but there is no need to make a farce of it.

  2. zztop

    zztop Frequent Poster

    Wel..the Theory of Relativity is now under review
    folowing 3 yeras review that found particles nanoseconds
    faster.:)Can you believe anything.
  3. horusd

    horusd Frequent Poster

    It's hard to credit alright. But SHC was a hot topic in literature like Dicken's Bleak House in the 19th Century, so it's a lot of traction in the public mind. What was it that Sherlock Holmes said? Something like if you eliminate all other possibilities, the only other remaining explanation must be true, however improbable!
  4. The_Banker

    The_Banker Frequent Poster

    If a condition like spontaneous combustion existed then it would be witnessed by someone at sometime.

    I have read up about it quite a lot and the people who did witness it date back to the 19th century and beyond.
    There have never been credible eye witness accounts.

    Why does it always happen to someone who is alone? Why doesnt it happen to someone at a restaurant?

    This is like the Loch Ness monster. Urban myth.

    I can see why the Independent printed this as they love this kind of reporting but for a qualified coroner to state it in open court is strange.
  5. Vanilla

    Vanilla Frequent Poster

    It was a coroners court, not a law court.

    Coroners court are strange places with a mix of the absurd and the formal. Many of the current coroners have simply 'inherited' the title and have no forensic or specialised knowledge.

    I remember ones where the Gardai had to go out on the streets before hand to round up enough members of the jury to make up the quorum.

    Because there was no evidence of a crime, effectively what difference does it make what is put on the death cert?
  6. micmclo

    micmclo Frequent Poster

    You mean Einstein was a fraud and a charlatan? :eek:

    The BBC adaptation is all you on youtube.
    Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Timothy West and other excellent actors
    Excellent viewing if you've a few hours

    As for the ending, ah some things never change and it was no surprise who got all the money
  7. horusd

    horusd Frequent Poster

    Because, (sigh), obviously people are far too polite to spontaneously combust in a restaurant and put other's off their dinner. It's just not the done thing. ;)
  8. Remix

    Remix Frequent Poster

    I'm curious as to what people think is the inference to the best explanation given the facts.

    There was fire damage to floor below him and the ceiling above him.

    If his clothes caught fire from the fireplace you might expect the unfortunate man to have serious injuries or to have died from burns.

    But the body is described as being in a 'cremated' state consistent with being completely consumed by fire.

    The report says no accelerants had been found. However no details on the forensic detection method was given. According to some google articles the detection of accelerants can be a controversial topic.
  9. oldnick

    oldnick Frequent Poster

    Most people in the world , and especially in this country-over 80%, believe that there is some sort of divine power that created everything and guides and looks over us.

    Even more of a "farce" (to use Brendans word about the possibility of SHC) is that even in "advanced" societies like the USA -40% actually believe in the literal word of the Bible. -i.e. no evolution , all the miracles really took place as stated etc etc.

    I bet many people reading this believe in a God and ghosts, though i gather that belief in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus tends to decline after childhood, (though I'm unsure why one places more credibility in some guy in the heavens than in one on a sleigh- how else do those presents get here?).

    So, if people believe in things for which there has been no proof whatsoever why the blazes be surprised about a belief in SHC, for which actually there have been some almost scientifically credible explanations.
  10. michaelm

    michaelm Frequent Poster

    Spontaneous human combustion is a misnomer for the Wick effect.
  11. Brendan Burgess

    Brendan Burgess Founder


    Thanks for explaining that. I was wondering how a court which should be evidence-based could arrive at such a conclusion.

    So who gets the jobs as coroners? Solicitors? Doctors? Anyone?
  12. Remix

    Remix Frequent Poster

    PubMed has some academic articles on the Wick Effect. In one experiment a pig carcass was wrapped in particular materials and the effect was induced when 1L of accelerent fuel was pored and ignited.

    I did come across one article on PubMed that appears to use SHC and the Wick Effect as synonyms rather as a misnomer. i.e the effect may have gained enough acceptance that the term SHC implies the Wick Effect. Terms can acquire a new meaning that don't reflect their original meaning.

    But I have no idea what the coroner was actually thinking. I'm not sure either though if enough evidence was present for all the necessary conditions for the Wick Effect to be conclusively proven.

    Imho it might have been better to simply state something along the lines of having no conclusive explanation given the facts available but no foul play was suspected.
  13. Remix

    Remix Frequent Poster

  14. ajapale

    ajapale Moderator

    The following well written extract comes from that document:

    So it seems that a coroner has to be a doctor or a laywer and can not be a forensic scientist.
  15. Vanilla

    Vanilla Frequent Poster

    AFAIK the majority are GPs, with the rest solicitors. A coroner can have a deputy and I believe many deputies end up as 'acting' coroner, thus effectively inheriting the position. A reform has been proposed for some some time but not yet put in place.

    I suppose an argument could be made that the coroner is really just an administrative figure head and hears the evidence of witnesses plus the state pathologist etc and therefore doesnt need specialist knowledge in themselves but they do tend to direct the jury towards a verdict. I know from personal knowledge that many of the jury members are the same old people, available to go to the coroners court, retired people etc and are used to the routine.
  16. Black Sheep

    Black Sheep Frequent Poster

    Very odd indeed, and his daughter was satisfied with extent of the investigation!!!!
  17. Remix

    Remix Frequent Poster

    Going back to the original case, I think it's important not to just make the assumption that the coroner suggested a non-material cause.

    The Scientists on pubMed demonstrated conclusively that the ignition and total combustion of a pig carcass can be achieved with a smaller than expected fire source initiated with 1L of accelerant.

    They also demonstrated therefore that the alleged phenomenon of SHC can be and is subject to scientific hypothesis and testing.

    Scientific knowledge being tentative and expanding, who can be sure that future experiments devised under different controls will not show higher rates of combustion than the currently understood Wick Effect?

    The coroner was told there was no evidence of an accelerant and he said this case "fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation".

    So taking that there is no current adequate explanation for this case and also taking that the phenomenon known as SHC can be subject to ongoing scientific enquiry and discovery, I'm starting to think his statement is not as bad as it first seems.

    I think it only qualifies as "steam venting" material if the reader makes the assumption he was implying a supernatural cause.
  18. horusd

    horusd Frequent Poster


    The speed of the particle is something like 60 millonth's of a second faster than light. How this makes any great difference is beyond me, but apparently, if true, it will.

    Don't tell me the end of Bleak House, I'm more than half way thro the book. :D

    Back on topic, I'n suprised that the Coronor didn't return an open verdict. Surely this is an option in a case like this?
  19. Remix

    Remix Frequent Poster

    Einstein also had an extra-marital affair and his wife found out about it.

    So married guys take note. If Einstein couldn't figure out a way of getting away with it...... ;)
  20. Purple

    Purple Frequent Poster

    You beat me to it.
    The whole idea of spontaneous human combustion has been comprehensively debunked. The Coroner obviously doesn't watch the Discovery channel.