Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nurse who took royal hoax call dies

Suicide suspected in death of woman who transferred call from fake queen

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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 about her condition.

By Friday, the sadness deepened, with news the nurse who took the hoax call had died of a suspected suicide.

The royal couple quickly issued a statement expressing their condolences following the death of Jacintha Saldanha, the 46-year-old mother of two duped by the DJs. They stressed they had not complained about the hoax call and offered praise for the staff. The hospital, too, stressed that Saldanha had not been reprimanded.

Saldanha was found dead early Friday at apartments affiliated with King Edward VII hospital in central London, where she had 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 of the cause.

2DayFM, the Australian station that performed the prank early Tuesday, said in a statement 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.

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 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 Prince William, also expressed sadness at the death, adding 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 police.

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

During the hoax call, a woman mimicking the Queen asked about the duchess's health. She was told by the second nurse, who took the call from Saldanha, the duchess "hasn't had any retching with me and she's been sleeping on and off."

The nurse went on to tell the DJs the duchess had had an uneventful night.

The hospital said it supported Saldanha in the aftermath of the call and 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, said he spoke with the DJs after second's death, and 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."

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.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 A21

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