Author Jack Semens’ ended his life over ageing fear

Jack Semmens
Jack Semmens

AN AUTHOR who sent a press release to the Observer announcing his death, killed himself to avoid old age despite being in good physical health.

Jack Semmens, 73, had meticulously planned his suicide over a period of months and a ‘how-to’ book for those wishing to end their lives was found lying near his body, an inquest heard on Wednesday.

He had previously battled with cancer, but at the time of his death he had no serious medical condition.

Mr Semmens, who was found dead at his home in Victoria Court, Marina, St Leonards, on July 7, had also sent an email in the early hours of the morning to several friends, with the subject line ‘Tired of life’.

When she received the email, friend Helena Wojtczak alerted the police, who arrived at the flat at 7.15am.

Ms Wojtczak, author and founder of local publisher The Hastings Press, met Jack several years ago when he attended one of her self-publishing seminars.

She said: “Jack hated the idea of getting old, and being treated differently.

“What surprises me most is the timing of it. Jack was in good health, he walked everywhere, went to the gym, and had cycled 16 miles in April.”

The inquest heard the cause of death was asphyxiation, and that Mr Semmens had planned the method of his death carefully.

He had recently sold his car, and left instructions for cancelling his utilities, along with handwritten letters addressed to his sister, his five children, and his cleaner Jean Graham.

Peter Cresswell, who had known Mr Semmens for 50 years, since they had lived one above the other in Notting Hill, regularly accompanied him to Jazz gigs in Hastings. He said: “Over the last 40 years, his life slowly diminished, and certain topics became taboo, he even stopped talking about his grandchildren.”

Mr Cresswell added that the method of Mr Semmens’ death was in keeping with his character, as he always liked to be in control of every detail.

Mr Semmens was born in Middlesborough, moving to London aged 20, where he had a successful career in advertising. He later set up his own company Chase Films, and produced music videos for artists including Barbara Streisand.

He had been writing seriously since the 1980s, one of his most recent works being a novel ‘Seated Female Nude With Right Arm Outstretched.’

He had moved to Hastings in the early 1990s, when he was recovering from bladder cancer.

Ms Wojtczak described him as passionate about literature, art and music, and as someone who was always immaculately dressed. He had escorted her to book launches in his convertible Mercedes.

“He was a man that you could have taken anywhere,” she said.

She added that he could have easily passed for a man much younger than his 73 years.

“When we met, I asked him how old he was, but he wouldn’t tell me. He said, ‘Then you will start treating me like an old person.’”

She saw him the day before he died, describing him as “buoyant” and in good spirits, not giving away anything of what he intended to do.

A written statement from pathologist Dr Stanford Mathe, described the method of his death as ‘elaborately and expertly implemented’.

Deputy coroner Joanna Pratt recorded a verdict of suicide, saying: “It is clear to me that Mr Semmens had made very careful plans to take his own life.”

Dr Michael Irwin, coordinator of the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide, which is campaigning for a change in UK law to allow very elderly, mentally competent people with unbearable health problems to die, said: “When groups or individuals give out information about particular methods, it is very irresponsible.”