The heartbroken family of a teacher who took his own life at a Swiss clinic despite having no diagnosed illness have slammed the ‘cowboy operation’ and say they only received his ashes two months after he died.
Chemistry teacher Alastair Hamilton, 47, paid more than £10,000 to die at the suicide clinic – which then kept his death a secret from his family.
His distraught mother Judith Hamilton, 81, last night warned that other families should be aware of the ‘cowboy clinic’ called Pegasos which, unlike the better-known Dignitas clinic, does not require people to be terminally ill or to be accompanied by someone when they go there to die.
She said the family still haven’t received the goodbye letters the clinic said he had left for them, or his personal belongings he had with him.
The family learned he had taken his life at the clinic only after police examined his bank account statements and found that he had transferred thousands of pounds to Pegasos.
Pegasos had initially refused to speak to them about his remains, saying it was ‘against our lawyer’s recommendations’. Eventually the family received his ashes in the post – two months after he died.
Shockingly, it took the persistence of Mr Hamilton’s devastated family, the Metropolitan Police, the Foreign Office and Interpol to discover what had happened to Alastair after he vanished last summer.
In emails to Alastair’s family, a frustrated Met Police sergeant criticised Pegasos’s ‘lack of compassion and lack of transparency’ as ‘completely unacceptable’.
The disturbing case can be revealed amid renewed pressure from cross-party MPs for UK law to be changed to allow assisted suicide in Britain.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer recently called for MPs to be given a vote on the issue, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said it was ‘an issue of conscience for individual parliamentarians’ to decide on.
Mr Hamilton told his parents he was visiting a friend in Paris when instead he was flying to Basel in Switzerland to end his life by lethal injection.
Alastair’s family said they were prompted to talk about their devastating experience amid discussions around assisted death in the UK, where it is currently illegal to help someone kill themselves.
Alastair’s brother Toby, 52, said: ‘I’m not against assisted dying but you can’t let someone who is not terminally ill turn up and do this on their own, completely alone, and then completely disregard the family or next of kin. It’s a cowboy operation. These people are cowboys.’
Mrs Hamilton added: ‘Why Pegasos acted the way they did and agreed to help Alastair do this, I don’t think I will ever understand.
‘We’re all still heartbroken and still have so many questions, but I’m not sure we will ever get all the answers.’
Under Swiss law, since 1942, people are allowed to help others to die as long as their motives are not selfish, such as for financial gain.
The law states that the person wishing to die must be of sound mind, but they do not need to be terminally ill or have any medical conditions. The country’s assisted suicide clinics are non-profit organisations.
Its most famous clinic, Dignitas – where at least 540 Britons have died in the past 20 years – has strict rules that its clients must be terminally ill, suffering extreme pain or living with an ‘unendurable disability’.
But Pegasos, run by activist Ruedi Habegger, says its users do not need to be ill to kill themselves. Its website says it will approve someone’s death request ‘in as little as a few weeks’ as long as they are aged over 18.
Alastair’s family said he had been battling with low moods since 2022, when he began losing weight and feeling increasingly tired.
He had given up working full-time and moved back into his parents’ home in Hampton, south-west London, but doctors could not work out what was wrong with him.
His worried family paid for multiple private health checks, including tests for cancer and HIV, to understand Alastair’s weight loss. But doctors were still unable to diagnose him with any condition.
Toby, who owns a lettings agency, said: ‘Alastair started talking about suicide like he was talking about going for a pint down the pub.
‘I begged him not to say the ‘S word’ to our mum and said we would throw money at the problem, whatever he needed, until we figured it out.’
On August 10, Alastair’s father Edward, 85, drove him to Gatwick Airport. He had no reason to suspect his son was not travelling to meet a friend in France.
Before he left for the last time, Mrs Hamilton said her son ‘put his arms around me and gave me a big kiss, and just said, ‘Always remember Mum that I love you very much, I always have, I always will, no matter what’.
‘I was so chuffed to think he was picking up his life and getting some enthusiasm, and he was always very affectionate and loving towards me, so it didn’t register that these words were his final goodbye.’
His family became concerned when Alastair stopped responding to their calls, texts and voicemails over the next week.
Mrs Hamilton phoned the police to report him as a missing person. Scotland Yard soon established that Alastair had in fact caught a flight to Switzerland.
An analysis of his bank transactions then revealed four payments totalling £10,310 to the Pegasos Swiss Association, a small clinic run from an office in central Basel.
Officers contacted Pegasos but, other than confirming Alastair had died there, the clinic failed to provide police with the date of his death or any other information.
As the days dragged on, Toby persistently emailed the clinic, saying: ‘I urge and beg you to please reply to my email as soon as possible.
‘Can you imagine what this is doing to our family in an incredibly traumatic time?’
However, the clinic did not reply for another week until it sent a cold email asked Toby to provide scans of his passport and to sign an affidavit in order to receive information about his brother.
Despite Toby doing this immediately, another week passed by before they finally confirmed Alastair had died on August 14.
Last night, Toby said: ‘If you had the slightest bit of empathy, and you are the slightest bit of a decent human being, you would pick up the phone and actually talk to the grieving family.’
Mrs Hamilton added: ‘I would have remortgaged the house and had his body flown home if I had known what happened, but we never got that chance.’
Only in October – two months after Alastair died – did the family receive his ashes in the post.
They never received any goodbye letters, despite Pegasos claiming Alastair had left some for them.
They have also never received his wristwatch, clothes or any of his belongings. Toby said: ‘We eventually found Alastair’s application to Pegasos which was literally just like a two-page covering letter for a job application.
‘It doesn’t seem like they do any of the checks that Dignitas do. They’re not liaising with doctors for medical records or psychotherapists to make sure a person is ill.’
Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen revealed that she had joined the Dignitas clinic after her diagnosis of stage four lung cancer, and urged ‘lawmakers to catch up with the public’.
Last night, after hearing about Alastair Hamilton’s case, Dame Esther told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Obviously, any new law in the UK will need precautions built in.
‘We can learn from other countries where such laws are already in place as to what is the most practical and humane way of legalising assisted dying without making people vulnerable.’
Pegasos did not respond to several requests for comment.
For help call Samaritans for free on 116123 or visit Samaritans.org