Hospital chairman condemns 'appalling' hoax

03:28, Dec 10 2012
Royal hoax death
John Lofthouse (R) the Chief Executive of King Edward VII's hospital and Lord Glenarthur, the hospital's Chairman, deliver a statement to the media.
Royal hoax death
A security guard mans the entrance to the 2dayFm offices in Sydney.
Royal hoax death
Police officers are guard outside the King Edward VII's hospital following the death of a nurse who took a hoax call concerning the Duchess of Cambridge's treatment.
Royal hoax death
An ambulance outside the apartment building following the death of a nurse who took a hoax call concerning the Duchess of Cambridge's treatment.
Royal hoax death
The royal couple leaving the hospital on Friday.

Jacintha Saldanha was a kind woman. "She used to walk an elderly neighbour who has dementia... down to the shops and back," one of her neighbours told The Times.

The neighbour said Ms Saldanha's two children, a son and daughter aged 14 and 16, "were always polite and well-behaved. The boy often played football on the green".

But Saldanha, who often stayed in nurses' quarters in London away from the family home in Bristol, also described herself to friends as "a very nervous person", one told The Telegraph.

She would have been "hit badly" by the prank phone call to her hospital asking after the Duchess of Cambridge; it would have "played on her mind".

Jacintha Saldanha
TRAGIC END: Nurse Jacintha Saldanha was at the victim of a prank call from two Australian radio hosts.

The British hospital that fell victim to the prank call from two Australian DJs has condemned the hoax, as the radio station behind the prank tried to defend itself against rising anger.

The body of Saldanha, 46, was found early Friday (local time) at nurses' housing provided by the London hospital where Prince William's wife, the former Kate Middleton, was being treated for acute morning sickness this week.

Police have made no connection between her death and the prank call, but people from London to Sydney have been making the assumption she died because of the stress.

The DJs have apologised for the hoax and taken the show off the air, but station 2day FM was forced to yank its Facebook page after it received thousands of angry comments and complaints have reportedly flooded into Australia's media regulator.

Rhys Holleran, CEO of 2DayFM's parent company Southern Cross Austereo, said the hosts were shocked and devastated by news of Saldanha's death.

"This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen and we're deeply saddened by it," Holleran said during a news conference in Melbourne on Saturday. "I spoke to both presenters early this morning and it's fair to say they're completely shattered."

According to the Daily Mail, a female executive of the Australian radio station burst into tears when the paper broke the news to her in the middle of the night. She said it couldn't be true and that the Mail's call to her must be a hoax. Assured that Saldanha was indeed dead, executive Vicki Heath cried, the paper said.

Greig and Christian have been offered counselling, Holleran said.

"These people aren't machines, they're human beings," he said. "We're all affected by this."

Holleran would not say who came up with the idea for the call, only that "these things are often done collaboratively." He said 2DayFM would work with authorities, but was confident the station hadn't broken any laws.


STOOD DOWN: 2Day FM hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian.

But British newspapers, presumably relieved to be the innocent parties in a media scandal, are ripping into the station for having continued to skite about the prank even after offering a half-hearted apology earlier in the week, before Saldanha's death.

After the initial backlash, Christian said, "We're very sorry if we've caused any issues." But the following day he tweeted, "Still haven't heard the royal prank that has the world talking? Listen to it here..."

His most recent tweet, promising that the latest on the royal prank was coming up, was posted half an hour before the ambulance was called for Saldanha.

Lord Glenarthur, the chairman of King Edward VII's Hospital, wrote to the chairman of the radio station's owner, saying the consequence of the prank "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," he wrote in the letter.

A native of India, Saldanha had lived in Bristol in southwestern England with her family for the past nine years, Scotland Yard confirmed.

Police said her death is being treated as "unexplained," though they said they didn't find anything suspicious. A coroner will make a determination on the cause next week.

Flowers were left outside the hospital's nurses' building. Attached to the red, white and blue flowers, a note read: "Dear Jacintha, our thoughts are with you and your family. From all your fellow nurses, we bless your soul. God bless."

Britain's Press Association reported she had a partner, Benedict Barboza as well as her two teenage children. In a statement, Saldanha's family said they were "deeply saddened" by the death and asked for privacy.

FEELING BETTER, THANK YOU: Prince William leaves the King Edward VII hospital with his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
ALL SMILES: Prince William and Kate Middleton are expecting their first child.

"She was a lovely, lovely person who always spoke to you when you saw her in the street," neighbour Mary Atwell told the agency. "She fitted in well around here, they all did. They've lived here for at least 10 years and were very quiet and pleasant."

During the call, a woman using the often-mimicked voice of Britain's monarch asked about the duchess' health. She was told by the second nurse who took the call from Saldanha that the duchess, the former Kate Middleton, "hasn't had any retching with me and she's been sleeping on and off."

The Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates radio broadcasting, says it has received complaints about the prank and is discussing the matter with the Sydney-based station, though it has not yet begun an investigation.

The station has a history of controversy, including a series of "Heartless Hotline" shows in which disadvantaged people were offered a prize that could be taken away from them by listeners.

St James's Palace, the office of the duchess and her husband Prince William, expressed sadness at Saldanha's death, but insisted it had not complained about the hoax. King Edward VII's Hospital said it did not reprimand Saldanha, nor had plans to discipline her.

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 William.

The full letter from Lord Glenarthur, the chairman of King Edward VII's Hospital, to the chairman of Austero:

"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."

- AP and Fairfax Australia