JACINTHA Saldanha, the nurse who apparently took her own life just days after receiving a prank phone call that duped nurses into revealing medical details about the Duchess of Cambridge, was yesterday described as “a very caring” and “lovely” woman.
The 46-year-old married mother of two, who moved to Britain from Mangalore in India more than ten years ago having previously spent time in the Middle East, was pronounced dead on Friday morning at staff accommodation close to the King Edward VII Hospital in London, where the pregnant Duchess had been treated for a severe form of morning sickness.
Saldanha’s mother-in-law Carmine Barboza, 69, speaking from her home in Udupi, Karnataka, south-west India, said: “We don’t know whether we’ll be able to bring her dead body back to India but we desperately hope so. We want to bring her dead body to India to perform her last rites.”
She added: “Jacintha was a very caring woman. She used to call us every Sunday without fail. We just cannot believe what has happened.”
Last night Saldanha’s devastated family, including her husband Benedict Barboza, 49, and their son and daughter aged 14 and 16, were being comforted by relatives and friends at their home in Bristol.
A neighbour of the family said: “It’s so, so tragic. She was such a lovely woman.”
The tributes came as the hospital sent a strongly worded letter to the owners of Australian radio station 2day FM.
The chairman of King Edward VII Hospital wrote to Southern Cross Austereo a day after Saldanha, who answered the phone to the hoax callers, apparently killed herself.
Lord Glenarthur said the consequences of the station’s “premeditated and ill-considered actions” led to the “humiliation” of Saldanha and another nurse.
“I appreciate that you cannot undo the damage which has been done but I would urge you to take steps to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated,” he wrote.
The DJs who made the call, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, impersonated the Queen and the Prince of Wales, and they were put through by Saldanha to the Duchess’s nurse.
“It was extremely foolish of your presenters even to consider trying to lie their way through to one of our patients, let alone actually make the call,” Lord Glenarthur wrote to the chairman of Southern Cross Austereo, Max Moore-Wilson.
“Then to discover that ... the call had been pre-recorded and the decision to transmit approved by your station’s management, was truly appalling.”
Saldanha’s family said in a statement they were “deeply saddened” by the death.
They said: “We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha. We would ask that the media respect our privacy at this difficult time.”
It is believed Saldanha was living in hospital accommodation and then travelling back to Bristol to see her family on days off. A neighbour in Bristol revealed that she was called a “nurse for the Queen” in the community because of her employment at the prestigious London hospital used by the Royal Family.
One neighbour, known as Maxine, said: “She was a lovely woman, just so smiley and bubbly. We used to joke with her that she was a nurse for the Queen. She was just so nice. She’ll be much missed, her family will be absolutely devastated. It’s so tragic.”
Saldanha’s driving instructor Jeff Sellick said he was in “complete shock” at her death.
He said: “It’s just such a shame, she was such a nice person. I can only imagine what happened would have played heavily on her mind and I just feel for the family at this point, because she must have been obviously deeply traumatised about what happened to her. It’s just such a shame that it’s happened to such a nice person.”
News of Saldanha’s death led to a huge backlash against the two presenters who broadcast the prank on their show on 2day FM.
They have now been taken off the air, while the Sydney-based station has been inundated with complaints.
Rhys Holleran, chief executive of 2Day FM’s parent company Southern Cross Austereo, yesterday stood by the two DJs, and said they were shocked and devastated by the news of the death.
At a news conference in Melbourne, he said: “This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen and we’re deeply saddened by it. I spoke to both presenters early this morning and it’s fair to say they’re completely shattered.”
However, he said he was confident the station hadn’t broken any laws, noting that prank calls in radio have been happening “for decades”.
Healthcare organisations have also expressed concern at the hoax call.
The Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive Dr Peter Carter said: “It is deeply saddening that a simple human error due to a cruel hoax could lead to the death of a dedicated and caring member of the nursing profession.”
The news of Saldanha’s death has hit the headlines in the Australian media, with calls for the DJs to be sacked.
It was reported that advertisers are already deserting the radio station, including supermarket giant Coles and telecommunications company Telstra.
The prank call was pre- recorded and vetted by lawyers before being broadcast to listeners in Sydney.
A flood of complaints has been made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates radio broadcasting.
ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said: “[We] will be engaging with the licensee, Today FM Sydney, around the facts and issues surrounding the prank call.”
‘Truly appalling’: Hospital’s letter
Here is the letter written by the chairman of King Edward VII’s Hospital, Lord Glenarthur, to Max Moore-Wilton, chairman of 2day FM’s parent company Southern Cross Austereo:
“I am writing to protest in the strongest possible terms about the hoax call made from your radio station, 2Day FM, to this hospital last Tuesday.
“King Edward VII’s Hospital cares for sick people, and it was extremely foolish of your presenters even to consider trying to lie their way through to one of our patients, let alone actually make the call.
“Then to discover that, not only had this happened, but that the call had been pre-recorded and the decision to transmit approved by your station’s management, was truly appalling.
“The immediate consequence of these premeditated and ill-considered actions was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses who were simply doing their job tending to their patients.
“The longer term consequence has been reported around the world and is, frankly, tragic beyond words.
“I appreciate that you cannot undo the damage which has been done but I would urge you to take steps to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated.”