Member of Smurfit dynasty 'burns himself' to death

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The Independent Online

A member of one of Ireland's richest families has died after being found engulfed in flames in a London churchyard.

Jason Smurfit was rushed to hospital after he was found alight outside St Michael and St Martin's Catholic Church in Hounslow on Sunday afternoon.

A police spokeswoman said: "He was taken to the West Middlesex Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His death is not being treated as suspicious."

The dead man, who was 35, was the nephew of Sir Michael Smurfit, the billionaire head of a global empire which is based on packaging. Jason's father, the late Jefferson Smurfit Jnr, was one of a number of family members who was involved in the business. An inquest into the incident, which has been opened and adjourned while further investigations take place, heard that his death had been caused by severe burns. The family is arranging for the body to be taken to Ireland.

Fr Anthony Psaila, a curate at the church, said: "He seemingly set himself on fire. It happened so suddenly, nobody was expecting such a thing on a Sunday afternoon. We had baptisms going on. The young people, the young adults, were meeting in the parish centre so there was a fair bit of activity going on and all of a sudden there was screaming and shouting and the whole thing took place.

"The young adults in the centre tried to help him and we put the fire out and all that, but the emergency services were immediately on the scene and they were very helpful," he added.

The Smurfits are one of the Irish Republic's best-known business families, often in the news as their enterprise expands into other countries. Sir Michael is also prominent in the horse- racing world and through the prestigious Michael Smurfit School of Business, which is based in Dublin.

Jason's father died in 1987. Another member of the family is the actress Victoria Smurfit, who has appeared in the BBC television series Ballykissangel and in films such as About a Boy, with Hugh Grant.

Sir Michael is known for an expensive lifestyle which involves properties in many counties, a yacht and and an extensive art collection. He also owns an upmarket country club in Co Kildare.

He regularly appears in the upper reaches of rich lists. Sometimes described as driven and abrasive, Sir Michael is known for drawing a salary which is in the millions.

The company was founded by Sir Michael's father Jefferson Snr in 1934 and later expanded by him and three brothers. Today it is said to employ more than 40,000 people in 20 European companies with other bases all over the world.