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Monday, 14 February, 2000, 16:21 GMT
Pseudocide: Doing a Reggie Perrin
The Americans know it as pseudocide. The British refer to it as doing a Reggie Perrin.
Elsewhere, they simply call it faking one's own death.
Lee Simm, who was given a five-month suspended sentence on Monday, is the most recent faker to hit the headlines. He tried to use the Paddington rail crash to end his former life as Karl Hackett but was eventually prosecuted for wasting police time.
Last year the grieving family of Graham Cardwell was startled to discover him alive and well and living, for the previous eight months, as a bachelor 200 miles away.
Wiltshire Police remain sure that missing Essex businessman Andrew Hoy, whose bloodstained clothes were found in his car in 1998, staged his own death and created a new life for himself.
Some suspect Lord Lucan of pseudocide after he vanished in 1974 on the night of a murder in the Lucan household. His family, though, are convinced the peer killed himself for real.
Shortly afterwards came the case of John Stonehouse. The former Labour MP left behind a wife, a daughter, a mistress and a mountain of debts when he deposited piles of clothes on a beach and fled to Australia with his secretary, to begin a new life as John Markham.
He was tracked down and jailed for seven years in 1976 for theft and false pretences.
Probably the best-known pseudocide was that of Regginald Perrin, the 1970s TV sitcom character played by Leonard Rossiter. A bored sales executive who lived a stale, suburban life and thought of his mother-in-law as a hippopotamus, Perrin jacked it all in for a more exciting identity.
Yet today, disappearing is more difficult, says Andrew O'Hagan, author of The Missing.
Wherever you go, he says, paperwork such as mortgage details, bank accounts and driving licences amount to a body of evidence that is both hard to erase and difficult to create.
Those who are successful tend to be teenagers or the dispossessed.
The trend has spawned a mini-publishing industry. Get Lost!, published by Info-Assist, estimates the cost of creating a new identity to be £16,000.
That includes transport, six months' temporary accommodation, and the cost of obtaining the passport, birth certificate or other paperwork of a deceased person.
But what drives people want to such extreme measures?
Kevin Gibson, of the British Psychological Society, says there is no obvious single psychological prompt. It is more a matter of personality and how people see themselves compared with the rest of society.
In Britain, the cases are dominated by men aged 30 to 50, whose seemingly successful exterior masks a hidden sense of frustration, failure and disappointment.
Lee Simm, for example, says he stopped living as Karl Hackett because he had "had enough" of his previous, unsuccessful life.
The National Missing Persons Helpline says feelings of frustration and disappointment are a common trait.
"Stress, financial pressure, family circumstances, can all make someone feel they cannot bear that life any more," says spokeswoman Clare Ainsley.
Nevertheless, pseudosides are "extreme cases" she says. Most disappearances are down to a spur-of-a-moment need to escape.
Does it ever work?
The disappeared may then begin to develop a new identity because they find it emotionally too difficult to get back in contact with those left behind.
But can a staged suicide ever work?
For Simm, it appeared that a new identity brought a new lease of life.
As Hackett, he was weighed down by convictions for one indecent assault, and various other minor offences. As Simm, however, his career flourished. He was soon earning up to £45,000 a year as a computer consultant.
But others say the daily grind does not disappear, and they simply spent a miserable time worrying about the life they left behind.
For Mike Cilgram, a 28-year-old poultry processor from Norfolk, the stunt totally backfired.
He left his clothes on the shore of Gorleston beach, Norfolk, and then hid, in the hope his wife would realise how much she missed him.
Instead, she told him the marriage was over. "I still loved him when I left, and we were trying for a child," she says.
"But I can't trust him and there's no guarantee he won't do something like this again."
Worse, some pseudocides are not even believed.
Civil servant and father-of-three Thomas Osmond left a suicide note in March 1995, the day before he was due to stand trial for sex offences, saying he had jumped off the Severn Bridge.
However, one suspicious detective was not convinced, and spent three years tracking him down.
He eventually found him in Bristol, living as a bachelor called Stephen Williams and working as a telesales clerk. His "new life" turned out to be a seven-year prison term.
Links to other UK stories are at the foot of the page.
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