Australian radio boss responds to nurse’s death
By Per Nyberg, CNN
(CNN) — The chairman of the Australian radio network at the heart of a hoax call targeting Prince William’s pregnant wife has called the apparent suicide of one of the nurses duped by the prank “truly tragic.”
“It is too early to know the full details leading to this tragic event and we are anxious to review the results of an investigation,” Southern Cross Austereo’s Max Moore-Wilton wrote Sunday in a letter to the head of King Edward VII’s Hospital in London.
The hospital, where a nurse apparently committed suicide after being duped by two DJs from Australian radio station 2DayFM, has condemned the radio station in a strongly worded letter.
The DJs, impersonating Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, called the hospital Tuesday and gained information about the condition of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge — which they subsequently played on air.
On Friday, the nurse who transferred the call through to the ward, Jacintha Saldanha, was found dead.
London’s Metropolitan Police have contacted Australian authorities in relation to the call, but “are not discussing about what or with who” they’re talking, a spokesman told CNN.
A spokeswoman for New South Wales Police in Australia told CNN: “As the investigation into the death of London nurse Jacintha Saldhana continues, New South Wales Police will be providing London’s Metropolitan Police with whatever assistance they require.”
Southern Cross said all advertising had been pulled from 2DayFM until “at least the end of business Monday” after several large advertisers pulled out.
Ben Barboza, Saldanha’s husband, expressed grief over his wife’s death in a post on Facebook: “I am devastated with the tragic loss of my beloved wife Jacintha in tragic circumstances, She will be laid to rest in Shirva, India.”
Saldanha’s daughter posted a photo of herself with her mother and wrote: “I miss you, I loveeee you. Jacintha saldanha.”
The chairman of the hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was a patient slammed the Australian radio station’s decision to broadcast the recorded prank call as “truly appalling” on Saturday,
“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,” wrote hospital chairman Lord Glenarthur.
“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.”
Lord Glenarthur called on the radio station to take steps “to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated.”
The fallout from Saldanha’s death has stretched from Britain to Australia — with questions being raised about how far is too far in the effort to find out details about Catherine’s pregnancy.
The two Australian DJs behind the practical joke, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, have come under fire, with some using the phrase “blood on your hands” to condemn their actions on the Sydney-based radio station.
“Pranksters Face World Fury,” screamed the front-page of the UK’s Daily Mirror on Saturday, while Daily Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon said it was “not so funny to hear two grown adults call up a hospital ward full of sick people to try to scam information about one of them.”
The DJs have since apologized, and “mutually decided” to go off the air for an undetermined period, Rhys Holleran, CEO of the Southern Cross Austereo media group, said Saturday during a news conference.
But he defended the legality of the station’s action, saying he was “very confident that we haven’t done anything illegal.”
“This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen, and we are deeply saddened by it,” he said.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority, the country’s media regulator, has not yet commented on the case.
However, it will be “engaging with the licensee, Today FM Sydney, around the facts and issues surrounding the prank call,” said the regulator’s chairman, Chris Chapman.
News of Saldanha’s death broke Friday, with the hospital saying she “was recently the victim of a hoax call.”
London’s Metropolitan Police said that Saldanha, 46, had living quarters in central London provided by her workplace.
Police said they were notified Friday morning that a woman was found unconscious at the address. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Police are treating the death as “unexplained.”
A postmortem examination will be held next week, police said.
A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said Saturday that he “thinks this is a very sad case and his thoughts are with her family and colleagues.”
Throughout the controversy surrounding the hoax, authorities did not identify the nurse. Her identity was released after her death.
Audio of the call posted online suggests a woman spoke briefly to the DJs before she put the call through early Tuesday morning to the ward where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for acute morning sickness.
“They were the world’s worst accents ever. We were sure 100 people at least before us would’ve tried the same thing. … We were expecting to be hung up on. We didn’t even know what to say when we got through,” Greig told listeners Thursday.
Off the air, Greig and Christian tweeted about the practical joke on Thursday and earlier Friday, promising “more on the #royalprank.” The pair’s Twitter accounts were taken down late Friday.
Some listeners applauded the prank, like one who identified himself as Guido on the station’s Facebook page and wrote, “It is only a joke people! it was great i love it!!!”
Others were outraged, with negative comments outnumbering positive ones on 2DayFM’s Facebook page even before the nurse’s death.
“Your stunt was done at a time in this country where there is paranoia about the intrusion of the media into people’s lives,” Gary Slenders wrote. “I know you will say it is harmless fun, the management of 2DayFM will say that it won’t happen again, but this is exactly where the phone hacking scandal started.”
The outcry grew exponentially after the hospital confirmed Saldanha’s death, leading the Coles supermarket chain to remove all its advertising from 2DayFM.
“This death is on your conscience,” reads one Facebook post. Several accused the two of having “blood on your hands.”
Saldanha’s family released a statement asking for privacy and directing questions to police. She is survived by her husband and two children.
“We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha,” said the statement, released by police.
Saldanha worked at King Edward VII’s Hospital for more than four years, and she was described as an “excellent nurse,” well-respected by co-workers, the hospital statement said.
The hospital “had been supporting her throughout this difficult time,” it said.
A St. James’ Palace spokesman said: “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are deeply saddened to learn of the death.
“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.”
Separately, a palace spokesman told CNN: “At no point did the palace complain to the hospital about the incident. On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times.”
The hospital said Wednesday that it deeply regretted the call had been put through.
CNN Wires and CNN’s Nick Thompson contributed to this report.