Duchess of Cambridge prank call hospital nurse found dead

King Edward VII hospital in London. Picture: PA
King Edward VII hospital in London. Picture: PA
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THE TWO Australian radio presenters who placed a hoax call to the hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated were suspended from their jobs last night after the nurse who answered the phone was found dead in a suspected suicide.

• Nurse who took prank call from Australian radio DJs impersonating Queen and Prince Charles found dead

• Inquiries continuing to establish circumstances of the incident; death is not being treated as suspicious

• William and Kate said to be ‘deeply saddened’ by the death

The body of Jacintha Saldanha, 46, described by her colleagues as a “first-class nurse”, was found at an address near the private King Edward VII Hospital in central London where the duchess was being treated for a severe form of morning sickness.

The hospital said it was “shocked” by the turn of events following the hoax call in the early hours of Tuesday, which saw presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian impersonate the Queen and Prince Charles.

Ms Saldanha, who was married with two children, answered the hoax call, which was made at 5:30am, before transferring it to a colleague who unwittingly divulged details of the duchess’s condition. She picked up the phone because there was no receptionist on duty.

The call was aired on radio and then played around the world.

Last night, a spokesman for the radio station 2Day FM, in Sydney, said the presenters would not return to their show until further notice “out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy”.

In a statement, Southern Cross Austereo, which owns the station, said: “Southern Cross Austereo and 2Day FM are deeply saddened by the tragic news of the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family and all that have been affected by this situation around the world.

“Chief executive officer Rhys Holleran has spoken with the presenters. They are both deeply shocked and at this time we have agreed that they will not comment about the circumstances.”

Confirmation of Ms Saldanha’s death, described by police as “unexplained” but not suspicious, prompted a bitter backlash against the DJs on social networking sites.

It is understood Ms Saldanha had not been suspended or disciplined following the incident, and the hospital said it had been “supporting” her in the wake of the incident, which made headlines around the world.

Yesterday in a statement, St James’s Palace said: “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jacintha Saldanha.

“Their Royal Highnesses were looked after so wonderfully well at all times by everybody at King Edward VII Hospital, and their thoughts and prayers are with Jacintha Saldanha’s family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time.”

A palace spokesman later added that “at no point did the palace complain to the hospital about the incident”, adding: “On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times.”

The hospital also issued a statement which paid tribute to the 46-year-old. “We can confirm the tragic death of a member of our nursing staff, Jacintha Saldanha,” it stated. “Jacintha has worked at the King Edward VII Hospital for more than four years. She was an excellent nurse and a well-respected and popular member of staff with all her colleagues.

“We can confirm that Jacintha was recently the victim of a hoax call to the hospital. The hospital has been supporting her at this difficult time.”

Scotland Yard said its officers were called at about 9:35am yesterday following a report of a woman found unconscious at an address in Weymouth Street.

The force said: “London Ambulance Service attended and the woman was pronounced dead at the scene. Inquiries are continuing to establish the circumstances of the incident. The death is not being treated as suspicious at this stage.”

While the two presenters, Ms Greig and Mr Christian, issued an apology for making the call, Ms Saldanha’s death is likely to bring significant pressure on their employers to review their future at the station.

It remains to be seen whether the King Edward VII Hospital will pursue legal action against the Australian broadcaster, a course of action which John Lofthouse, its chief executive, said earlier this week was being considered.

Last night, he said of Ms Saldanha: “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies at this time are with her family and friends. Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much-loved and valued colleague.”

Lord Glenarthur, the hospital’s chairman, added: “This is a tragic event. Jacintha was a first-class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients during her time with us. She will be greatly missed.”

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said it was a tragedy that the hoax appeared to have brought about the death of a committed nurse.

“This is tragic news, and the thoughts of all at the Royal College of Nursing go to the family of Jacintha Saldanha,” he 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.”

Since the duchess was discharged from hospital on Thursday, the stunt by the Australian DJs has been roundly condemned.

Ms Greig, pretending to be the Queen, said: “Oh, hello there. Could I please speak to Kate please, my granddaughter?” A woman, thought to be Ms Saldanha, replied: “Oh yes, just hold on ma’am” and passed the call on to another unnamed nurse who was helping to attend to Kate. The second nurse then held a conversation with Ms Greig and Mr Christian.

In the aftermath of the call, which was pre-recorded and vetted by lawyers before broadcast, 2Day FM issued an apology, as did Ms Greig and Mr Christian.

At the time, the hosts of the station’s weeknight show, The Summer 30, said they were “very sorry” if they had “caused any issues”, but added that they were “very surprised” the call was put through on account of their “terrible accents”.

They said, however, the call had been made with “light-hearted intentions” and since issuing the apology, have continued to tweet about the call.

When the news of Ms Saldanha’s death emerged, Ms Greig and Mr Christian appeared to suspend their Twitter accounts, following a deluge of abuse.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (Acma) has said it had received complaints about the call. 2Day FM has previously been in trouble with the regulator, in particular following an incident when a 14-year-old girl revealed on air that she had been raped.

In a statement, Acma said: “We have received complaints overnight regarding the 2Day FM prank call to the King Edward VII Hospital in London.

“Under the co-regulatory model, code complaints should first go to the licensee. If a complainant is dissatisfied with the response, then a complaint can be made to the Acma.”

Some members of the public left angry messages on the station’s Facebook page, calling for the presenters to be sacked, and for 2Day FM itself to be closed down.

One person posted: “You have made Australians look bad! Someone has lost their life, have you apologised? Have you resigned from guilt? Was it worth the laughs and the ratings?

“I will never listen to your radio station again.”