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Royal phone hoax: Presenters break silence over royal phone call

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  • by PATRICK MCPARTLIN
 

THE family of a nurse who apparently committed suicide after she was duped by a hoax call made to the hospital treating the Duchess of Cambridge “miss her every moment of every day,” MP Keith Vaz said last night.

Flanked by Jacintha Saldanha’s husband Benedict Barboza and her two teenage children, the politician said they had been left “devastated” by the loss of a “loving mother and a loving wife”.

The nurse had been fooled by two Australian radio hosts into believing they were the Queen and Prince of Wales during the prank call made last Tuesday to the King Edward VII’s Hospital in London.

The hospital worker transferred them to a colleague who described in detail the condition of Kate who was being treated at the time for severe pregnancy sickness.

Ms Saldanha, 46, from Bristol was found dead on Friday in what appeared to be a suspected suicide.

The nurse’s brother Naveen said his sister was a devout Roman Catholic and would have been “devastated” by her unwitting role in the breach of medical confidentiality.

After meeting the family in Parliament, Mr Vaz, who earlier criticised the hospital for not providing Mr Barboza and his children enough support, spoke briefly outside the Commons on their behalf.

He said: “They just want me to say that they are extremely grateful to the public here in the United Kingdom and throughout the world who have sent them messages of condolences and support following the death of Jacintha - a loving mother and a loving wife.

“This is a close family. They are devastated by what has happened. They miss her every moment of every day but they are really grateful to the support of the British public and to the public overseas for the messages of support and kindness.”

Mr Vaz visited the nurse’s family yesterday at their home in Bristol and during a radio interview earlier today said they were in “terrible distress” and urged King Edward VII’s Hospital to provide them with more support and hold an inquiry.

He said: “The hospital has sent them a letter, which I have seen, but I’m surprised that nobody has made the journey to Bristol to sit with them and offer them the counselling that I think they need.”

The MP added: “More support in my view needs to be given.”

His criticism came after the two Australian DJs behind the hoax call - Mel Greig and Michael Christian - gave an emotional account of their reaction to the nurse’s death.

Interviewed on Australian TV networks they said they had been left “gutted, shattered, heartbroken”.

The 2Day FM presenters said their prank call to the King Edward VII’s Hospital had “a tragic turn of events no-one could have predicted or expected”.

A tearful Greig, who was at times comforted by Christian, told Today Tonight on Australia’s Channel Seven: “There’s nothing that can make me feel worse than what I feel right now. And for what I feel for the family.

“We’re so sorry that this has happened to them.”

Greig said: “I remember my first question was ‘Was she a mother?’.

“I have thought about this a million times in my head, that I just wanted to reach out to them and just give them a big hug and say sorry.

“I hope they are OK, I really do.”

A sombre and downcast Christian added: “I just hope that they get the love, the support, the care that they need.”

In a second interview on the Nine Network, the DJs said they had never expected their fake call would be put through to the Duchess’s ward.

They said they expected it to last 30 seconds, get told off and have the phone hung up in their ear.

A distraught Greig said: “Not for a second did we expect to speak to anyone. We expected to be hung up on.”

Prime Minister David Cameron also described Ms Saldanha’s death as “an absolute tragedy”.

Asked about the incident at a Westminster lunch, Mr Cameron said: “I feel incredibly sorry for her and her family. It is an absolute tragedy that this has happened and I am sure everyone will want to reflect on how it was allowed to happen.”

In response to Mr Vaz’s criticism the hospital said its chief executive John Lofthouse had spoken to the nurse’s husband on Friday by phone and offered to meet him whenever he wanted.

In a statement it said: “Mr Lofthouse also made it clear that the hospital would offer any support it could. Mr Barboza said he was grateful for the offer, and the hospital invited him to reflect on whatever help he would like.”

The hospital has also established a memorial fund in the nurse’s name to provide financial support for her family and made the first donation to the fund.

In a statement Southern Cross Austereo, the parent company of 2Day FM, said it had suspended advertising on the Sydney radio station until further notice, ended Greig and Christian’s Hot 30 show and suspended prank calls across the company.

The statement said: “Several attempts were made by the production team to discuss the segment with the hospital, but with no success. The segment was referred to an internal review process which included internal legal review and authorisation was granted to broadcast.

“The company does not consider that the broadcast of the segment has breached any relevant law, regulation or code.

“The company will fully co-operate with any investigations.”

The decision to suspend advertising was costing the company around £100,000 a day according to reports.

Police in London have contacted their Australian counterparts about speaking with the two radio presenters.

Scotland Yard is understood to have asked police in Sydney for assistance, with a view to interviewing the two DJs ahead of an inquest into Ms Saldanha’s death.

Scotland Yard said a post-mortem examination would be held tomorrow at Westminster Mortuary and it was likely an inquest would be opened and adjourned at Westminster Coroner’s Court later this week.

The death is not being treated as suspicious.

Southern Cross Austereo chairman Max Moore-Wilton has said the board would consider its response to a letter from Lord Glenarthur, chairman of Edward VII’s Hospital, in which he called for the “truly appalling” broadcast to “never be repeated”.

Greig and Christian are receiving “intensive psychological counselling” to deal with the tragedy.

The pair are on indefinite leave from the radio station, and have been bombarded with abusive and threatening messages on social media websites.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates radio broadcasting, confirmed it had received complaints from all around the world, and said it was considering whether it should launch an investigation into whether the presenters breached the Commercial Radio Code of Practice.

Sources said an investigation was “likely” to be opened into the broadcast.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have sent their condolences to Ms Saldanha’s family.

The nurse is originally from Mangalore in south-west India, according to reports and her teenage children are said to be daughter Lisha, 14, and son Junal, 16.

A St James’s Palace spokesman stressed that they had not complained to the hospital about the hoax call, saying: “On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times.”

 
 
 

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