Nurse in royal hoax call incident found dead
Jacintha Saldanha was at the end of a long shift when the telephone call came through to the front desk of King Edward VII’s Hospital in London at 5.30am on Wednesday.
The hospital had been the focus of world attention because it was caring for the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, who was being treated for acute morning sickness.
“Hello, good morning, King Edward VII Hospital,” said Ms Saldanha, who was filling in as receptionist on the night shift.
“Oh hello there, could I please speak to Kate, please, my granddaughter,” said Mel Greig, a disc-jockey with the Sydney-based 2Day FM radio station.
Ms Saldanha, believing the caller to be Queen Elizabeth, put the call through to a colleague who gave details of the duchess’s condition.
In the days since, Ms Saldanha (46), a mother of two who lived with her partner and children in Bristol, was deeply upset over the controversy, even though she was neither disciplined nor sanctioned by the hospital.
The prank call, involving Greig and her fellow disc jockey Michael Christian had been prerecorded and cleared by the radio station’s lawyers before broadcast.
Early yesterday morning Ms Saldanha was found unconscious at a nurses’ flat owned by the hospital in nearby Weymouth Street.
She was declared dead by paramedics who had tried to revive her.
Last night, the London Ambulance Service said Ms Saldanha’s death was being treated “as unexplained but not suspicious”. Suicide is suspected but not yet confirmed.
Colleagues, some clearly distraught, left the hospital yesterday to a wall of television cameras and photographers.
“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies at this time are with her family and friends. Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much loved and valued colleague,” said the hospital’s chief executive, John Lofthouse.
Prince William and his wife had been furious with the radio station: “Kate is vulnerable and weak at the moment and these people think it’s funny to make a joke out of it?” said a palace official on Thursday.
However, the prince’s father, Prince Charles, made light of it earlier that day when he arrived to wish explorer Ranulph Fiennes well in his bid to become the first man to cross the Antarctic in the depths of winter.
“How do you know I’m not a radio station?” Pleased at the prospect of being a grandfather, he said: “I’m thrilled, marvellous. It’s a very nice thought to become a grandfather in my old age, if I can say so. I’m very glad my daughter-in-law is getting better, thank goodness.”
The royals held their silence, but there was no shortage of others who were outraged. “It beggars belief that a member of the public could call up and obtain details of the duchess’s medical condition in this way,” said Dickie Arbiter, the queen’s former press secretary.
No palace complaint
St James’s Palace said the duke and duchess were “deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jacintha Saldanha” but let it be known it had at no time complained about the inadvertent breach of the duchess’s privacy.
“Their royal highnesses were looked after so wonderfully well at all times by everybody at King Edward VII’s Hospital, and their thoughts and prayers are with Jacintha Saldanha’s family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time,” said a spokesman.
The prank call was still being replayed by the station yesterday when it was unaware of the tragedy unfolding in London.
Dr Peter Carter of the Royal College of Nursing said it was “deeply saddening that a simple human error due to a cruel hoax could lead to the death of a dedicated and caring nurse”.