Nurse who took Middleton prank call found dead

Last updated 12:32 08/12/2012
Reuters

Hospital official says the nurse who treated the Duchess of Cambridge and was pranked by radio show hosts was a "much loved and valued colleague." Deborah Gembara reports.

Kate's nurse found dead
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SUSPECTED SUICIDE: A private ambulance prepares to take away the body of the nurse found dead just days after falling for a prank call regarding the Duchess of Cambridge.
FEELING BETTER, THANK YOU: Prince William leaves the King Edward VII hospital with his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
Reuters
ALL SMILES: Just days before her nurse was found dead, the Duchess and her husband Prince William thanked the hospital and all staff for their treatment of Kate.

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The news that Prince William and the former Kate Middleton were expecting their first child - joyous news for a couple looking forward to starting a family - immediately turned bittersweet with the simultaneous announcement that the duchess was being hospitalised for acute morning sickness.

Then there was an invasion of her privacy by two disc jockeys who impersonated Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles to gain information on her condition.

But overnight, the sadness merely deepened, with the news that the nurse who unwittingly took the hoax call had died.

The royal couple quickly issued a statement expressing their condolences over the death of Jacintha Saldanha, the 46-year-old mother of two duped by the DJs, who had suddenly found herself at the vortex of a global incident.

"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 statement from William's office said.

They stressed they had not complained about the hoax call, and indeed offered praise for the staff.

The hospital, too, stressed that Saldanha had not been reprimanded.

And yet the week can only be described as tragic, with the happiness so tarnished by the latest developments.

Saldanha was found dead at apartments affiliated with King Edward VII hospital in central London, where she worked for four years.

Police didn't release a cause of death, but said they didn't find anything suspicious. A coroner will make a determination on the cause.

2DayFM, the Australian station that performed the prank on Tuesday, said in a statement posted on Facebook and Twitter that the two disc jockeys, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, would not return to the station until further notice. They had apologised for the hoax earlierin the week.

Saldanha took the hoax call by the pair, who impersonated Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles to elicit information on the duchess, the hospital said. She later transferred the call to the nurse caring for the duchess, who was admitted to the hospital Monday with acute morning sickness.

"Our thoughts and deepest sympathies at this time are with her family and friends," hospital chief executive John Lofthouse said in a statement. "Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much loved and valued colleague."

St James's Palace, the office of the duchess and her husband Prince William, also expressed sadness at the death, but insisted that it had not complained about the hoax.

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"On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times," the palace said in a statement.

Saldanha's family asked for privacy in a statement issued through London police.

"We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha," the statement said.

The hospital said it supported Saldanha in the aftermath of the call and that its phone protocols were under review.

Officials from St James's Palace have said the duchess is not yet 12 weeks pregnant. The child would be the first for her and Prince William.

CONFIDENTIAL DETAILS

The radio station launched its stunt in the wake of a frenzy of media attention in Britain and worldwide after officials announced Kate was pregnant with a future British king or queen.

Two presenters from Australia's 2Day radio station called the hospital, pretending to be William's grandmother the Queen and his father, the heir-to-the throne Prince Charles.

Despite unconvincing accents, presenters Michael Christian and Mel Greig were put through to the ward where Kate was being treated and were given details about how she was faring.

Saldanha had answered the call as it was early morning and there were no receptionists on duty, and had passed it to a nurse on the ward. Saldanha, who had worked at the hospital for four years, had not been facing any disciplinary action, a source said.

"She was an excellent nurse and well-respected and popular with all of her colleagues," Lofthouse said.

William's office said there had been no royal complaint about the breach of confidentiality, although the hospital said it was reviewing its "telephone protocols".

"On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times," a royal spokesman said.

William's father, Prince Charles, had made light of the intrusion, joking to reporters after the incident: "How do you know I'm not a radio station?'

The private hospital is one of Britain's most exclusive and has a history of treating members of the royal family, including the Queen's husband Philip who was admitted in June for a bladder infection after taking part in a jubilee pageant on the Thames river.

The prank call and its tragic aftermath comes as Britain's own media scrambles to agree on a new system of self regulation and avoid state intervention following a damning inquiry into reporting practices.

A recording of the call was widely available on the internet and many newspapers printed a transcript of the call.

Facebook tribute pages swiftly set up after the nurse's death attracted messages of sympathy, some echoing calls for the radio station to pay compensation to her family and for the presenters to resign.

Saldanha's body was removed from the red brick, five-storey building where it was found, and transferred to a small private ambulance, shortly after the hospital confirmed her death, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

She had been staying in staff accommodation in the building, away from her family in the city of Bristol, western England, a source said.

- AP and Reuters

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