December 7, 2012

Hospital: Nurse duped in Kate hoax found dead

Jacintha Saldanha was the victim of a call made by two Australian radio disc jockeys posing as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles.

The Associated Press

LONDON — 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 hospitalized 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.

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A policeman stands guard outside the King Edward VII hospital, in central London on Friday.

AP

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By Friday, 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 Australian DJs, who had suddenly found herself at the vortex of a global incident. 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 early Friday 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 early 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 apologized for the hoax Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the station did not return messages seeking further comment. Greig and Christian's Twitter accounts were deactivated following the news of Saldanha's death.

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.

"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.

Australia's media watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, said it was looking into the hoax.

"These events are a tragedy for all involved, and I pass on my heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased nurse in London," the authority's chairman, Chris Chapman, said in a statement. "The ACMA does not propose to make any comments at this stage but will be engaging with the licensee, 2DayFM Sydney, around the facts and issues surrounding the prank call."

During the hoax 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 nurse went on to tell the radio personalities that the duchess had had an uneventful night, as a dog barking sound was heard in the background. The alleged queen and prince talk about traveling to the hospital to check in on the patient.

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

The Australian station placed the recording of the conversation on its website, but later said it was sorry.

"We were very surprised that our call was put through. We thought we'd be hung up on as soon as they heard our terrible accents," Greig and Christian said in a joint statement with the station at the time. "We're very sorry if we've caused any issues and we're glad to hear that Kate is doing well."

The station's chief executive officer, Rhys Holleran, had spoken with the presenters after the nurse's death, and that both were deeply shocked. The hosts "have decided that they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy."

Christian's Twitter account has since been taken down.

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.

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