Australian radio station boss refuses to sack Royal prank DJs and claims THEY are the victims as family tell of their grief after mother-of-two nurse who transferred hoax call to Kate’s ward ‘kills herself’
The boss of the radio company at the centre of the royal hoax call today refused to sack the DJs behind the stunt and painted them as victims.
2DayFM presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian were taken off air after it emerged the nurse who took their prank call at Kate Middleton’s hospital had died in a suspected suicide.
Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old mother of two, had been manning the hospital switchboard when the Australian hoaxers called and she transferred the call to the Duchess of Cambridge’s ward.
Rhys Holleran, the chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo, which owns the station, said the presenters were ‘completely shattered’ and had been offered counselling.
Facing the media; Southern Cross Austereo CEO Rhys Holleran came out in defence of the DJs behind the prank call to Kate Middleton’s hospital
Tragedy: Kate and WIlliam have said they are ‘deeply saddened’ by Jacintha Saldanha’s death and paid tribute to the care the Duchess received at the King Edward VII
Abuse: Australian radio presenters Christian Michael and Mel Greig, whose prank call about the Duchess of Cambridge was transferred by nurse Jacintha Saldanha, have been bombarded with abuse on Twitter following news of her suspected suicide. They later removed their accounts
Mr Holleran told a press conference in Melbourne that the primary concern was for the family of Jacintha Saldanha, whose body was found yards from the King Edward VII Hospital yesterday.
He said: ‘I spoke to both presenters early this morning and it’s fair to say they are completely shattered.
‘These people aren’t machines, they’re human beings. What happened is incredibly tragic and we’re deeply saddened and we’re incredibly affected by that.’
He added: ‘I think prank calls as a craft in radio have been going for decades and decades and are not just part of one radio station or network or country.
‘No-one could have reasonably foreseen what ended up being an incredibly tragic day.’
Mr Holleran declined to reveal who had dreamed up the prank call but said: ‘These things are often done collaboratively.’
Sombre: Police guard the front of King Edward VII’s hospital yesterday where Jacintha Saldanha had worked as a nurse for four years
A source confirmed that 2DayFM’s lawyers had listened to audio of the entire call and had given it clearance to go to air.
Mr Holleran said it was ‘a bit early’ to be drawing conclusions from what was really a ‘deeply tragic matter.’
He added: ‘I don’t think anyone could have reasonably foreseen that this was going to be a result.’
His comments come after the family of Mrs Saldanha told of their devastation at losing their ‘beloved Jacintha’.
The nurse was found dead yesterday morning.
Mrs Saldanha found herself at the centre of the controversy after answering the DJs’ call, when they obtained intimate details about Kate Middleton’s condition by posing as the Queen and Prince Charles.
The grieving family of the ‘excellent’ nurse said: ‘We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha.’
Prince William and his pregnant wife Kate told how they are ‘deeply saddened’ by the tragedy. A Palace spokesman said the couple had not made a complaint about the prank call.
‘Their thoughts and prayers are with Jacintha Saldanha’s family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time,’ a statement said.
When asked if they had expressed concern, the spokesman added: ‘On the contrary we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times.’
The shock waves over the death of the nurse have spread rapidly around Australia.
Australia’s media regulator was inundated with complaints about the prank.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which regulates radio broadcasting, has said it is currently in the process of discussing the matter with the Sydney-based station.
A spokesman for the ACMA said it had received ‘a lot’ of complaints but declined to give a figure.
The spokesman said: ‘We’ve had a lot but it doesn’t actually matter, we only need one complaint to launch an investigation.
‘But we haven’t launched an investigation yet, we’re engaging with the licensee at the moment.’
ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said: ‘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 ACMA does not propose to make any comments at this stage, but will be engaging with the licensee, Today FM Sydney, around the facts and issues surrounding the prank call.’
British-born Prime Minister Julia Gillard described the death as ‘a terrible tragedy’ and, through a spokesman, passed on her deep-felt condolences to the family of Jacintha.
Mrs Saldanha, also known as Jess, is thought to have come to the UK from southern India more than ten years ago and settled in the UK with her partner, 49-year-old hospital accountant Benedict Barboza.
The couple bought their £123,000 three-bedroomed home in 2005 in the Westbury-on-Trym district of Bristol.
After registering as a nurse in 2003 when she initially worked for the North Bristol NHS Trust, which runs Frenchay and Southmead hospitals, it is believed the nurse chose to apply for a job at King Edward four years ago and appears to have been living in the nursing accommodation ever since.
She has a son called Junal, 16, and daughter, believed to be 14. She stayed in London when she was working before returning to her family on days off.
Mrs Saldanha is thought to have been from the Mangalore region of India. She is thought to have spent time in the Middle East before moving to Britain.
The hospital said Mrs Saldanha had not been disciplined over the call.
‘Deeply saddened’: Body believed to be that of Jacintha Saldanha was found in lodgings only yards from the hospital where she worked
Death: A police officer stands outside the home of Jacintha Saldanha in Bristol yesterday evening
Distraught: Nurses at the hospital head inside while clinging to eachother after hearing the news about Jacintha today
Shattered: Hospital chief executive John Lofthouse spoke of their pain and sadness at the news of Jacintha’s death – and clearly linked it to the hoax call she took from the Australian DJs
Told about the tragedy last night, Vicki Heath, a spokesman for 2DayFM, said: ‘Is this is a hoax call? You’re having me on, aren’t you?’ Assured that the call was genuine, she burst into tears.
‘I can’t believe this – I just can’t believe it,’ she said. ‘Oh my God, oh no.’
The owners of the radio station which employed Mel Greig and Michael Christian announced that the duo will not return to their show until further notice.
It is believed that senior management at 2Day FM were so shocked at the death of Jacintha that bosses have ordered the pair off the air.
Concerns were expressed last night about the well-being of the DJs.
Jeff Kennett, Melbourne-based chairman of the Beyond Blue group, which deals with people with mental issues, said: ‘Australians should support, rather than crucify, the pair for a prank made in good faith.’
He added: ‘This is going to have terrible ramifications in terms of the impact on people’s lives well beyond the nurse in the UK.
‘I hope that both Mel and Michael are strong and firm. Nothing they did was offensive, it was a joke, a prank, never intended to have any ramifications of this sort
‘We’ve got to be careful we don’t become so politically correct that we deny ourselves the opportunity right now to extend to these two all the support we can to ensure that they come through this as strongly as possible.’
Others have come out in support of the DJs and said they were not to blame for what happened to the nurse – rather, the hospital should have had more strenuous security measures in place
The telephone giant Telstra, joined a list of companies removing their advertising from the radio station last night.
The station’s owner was forced to pull advertising due to panic from advertisers.
A statement from the station owners said: ‘Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) and 2Day FM are deeply saddened by the tragic news of the death of the nurse, Jacintha Saldanha from King Edward VII Hospital and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family, and all that have been affected by this situation around the world.
‘CEO Rhys Holleran has spoken with the presenters, they are both deeply shocked, and at this time we have agreed that they not comment about the circumstances.
‘SCA and 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.’
News of the death broke in the middle of the night in Australia and it was only during the evening London time yesterday that Australians woke to hear about the tragedy.
It led the news on every radio station, including the national broadcaster, the ABC. It reported there had been an outpouring of anger in the UK and said thousands of people had demanded that the DJs be fired.
The Palace declined to say whether the Duchess met Jacintha Saldanha but it was very possible.
The King Edward VII hospital, who were not believed to be disciplining Jacintha over the incident, said it announced her death with ‘very deep sadness.’
Their statement added: ‘Jacintha has worked at the King Edward VII Hospital for more than four years. She was an excellent nurse and well respected and popular with all over her colleagues.’
Ms Saldanha answered the hoax call at 5.30am on Wednesday morning and transferred the call through to Kate’s ward.
Another nurse then told the giggling DJs, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who were pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles, how the Duchess was about to ‘get freshened up’.
The station apologised for ‘any inconvenience caused’ but provoked widespread fury and disbelief by continuing to continuing to promote its hoax, calling it ‘the prank call the world is talking about’ before playing clips of the recording.
As the backlash grew the DJs both deleted their Twitter accounts.The radio station’s Facebook page was bombarded with thousands of abusive comments from outraged users.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘This is tragic news, and the thoughts of all at the Royal College of Nursing go to the family of Jacintha Saldanha.
‘It is deeply saddening that a simple human error due to a cruel hoax could lead to the death of a dedicated and caring member of the nursing profession.’
Officers from Scotland Yard launched an investigation yesterday and are treating the death as ‘unexplained’.
A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister’s thoughts are with the family and colleagues of Jacintha Saldanha at this sad time.’
The exact cause of death remained unclear. However, one source indicated that the woman appeared to have killed herself.
A neighbour said the family have lived in there £130,000 terraced home in Bristol for about eight years.
The neighbour said: ‘They’re a lovely family – Ben gives my lad a lift when he goes refereeing at Bristol Rovers with Junal.
‘It’s so so tragic, she was such a lovely woman.
‘She must have thought there was no way back, that’s the only thing I can think of.’
Another neighbour of Mrs Saldanha described the tragic nurse as ‘a lovely woman’.
Marianne Homes, 49, said: ‘I’ve always known her as the doctor, she was always very smartly dressed.
‘Their son was always really into football, we always saw him with a ball kicking it about with his friends.
‘She was a lovely woman, everytime I saw her she would talk to me.
‘I hadn’t seen her for a while, I wondered what had happened to her it’s so sad to know this has happened.
‘She was always so smartly dressed and well presented.
‘I think her kids are secondary school age, she definitely has one boy and one girl.’
A former neighbour of the nurse described her as a ‘nice, lovely lady’.
Fighting back tears, she said: ‘What a terrible tragedy – just before Christmas as well. Oh those two young boys – they’ll be heartbroken. Her and Ben were a lovely couple.
‘They didn’t live here very long, but they were such nice neighbours – they invited us in for a curry when they moved in.
‘They lived here seven or eight years ago, if not more. They kept themselves to themselves mostly.
‘They bought their own house and moved on – they were just renting here I think.
‘I can’t believe what happened. It’s so sad, so tragic. They always spoke to us – she was such a nice lady.
‘It’s devastating to hear she’s gone – and in such circumstances that could be so easily avoided.
‘Those Australians that called the hospital want stringing up.’
Even yesterday, before news of the death, DJ Michael Christian was urging people to tune in to their show to hear more about the prank.
In the 5.30am call Mrs Saldanha had connected them to another nurse who gave details of Kate’s condition.
The presenters, from 2Day FM, remarked during their show how their efforts were the ‘easiest prank call ever made’, as they put on mock British accents they later described as ‘terrible’.
The Australian station and presenters advertised the stunt worldwide.
Both presenters have deleted their Twitter accounts after an online backlash called for them to lose their jobs.
One user, Alison Hassell, told Greig: ‘If you have any kind of conscience or morals….. Right about now you should be typing your resignation.’
Scott Ashworth tweeted: ‘You scumbag, hope you get what’s coming to you!’, while another user, Michael Hird, wrote: ‘I hope you’re happy now.. The receptionist you rang has COMMITTED SUICIDE! You have blood on your hands now!’
Greig also received what appeared to be threats on the social networking site.
Costas Loizou swore at the presenter and ended his message: ‘I might start calling your mum and leaving messages..in fact expect one on xmas day….’
Other users directed abuse at her co-presenter Christian. Justine Daniel told him the hoax was a ‘sick joke’ and added: ‘Hope you’re banished from being on air forever.’
Peter Timmins wrote: ‘There are no words to describe the disgust that everyone else is feeling about the prank you thought so funny.’
Sinead Gavaghan called him a ‘vile, stupid creature’ while Chris Campbell claimed: ‘You should be fired and the station shut down.’
In the call at 5.30am on Tuesday impersonating the Queen, Miss Greig said: ‘Oh, hello there. Could I please speak to Kate please, my granddaughter?’
Thinking she was speaking to the Queen, the receptionist replied: ‘Oh yes, just hold on ma’am’.
She then put the presenters through to one of the nurses who was caring for the Duchess.
The nurse also believed she was speaking to the Queen and went on to make a number of deeply personal observations about Kate’s health.
A recording of the entire conversation was played on the Sydney-based radio station 2Day.
A radio station spokesman later apologised for the ‘inconvenience’ caused by the call.
According to the website of the talent agency that promotes Greig, the prank was ‘a bit of fun and indicative of Mel’s high energy, anything for a laugh, personality’.
Her profile reads: ‘Mel started at 2Day FM, Sydney’s number one hit music station, in early 2012 after five years experience in commercial radio and off the back of running her own radio school from her home town in Adelaide.
‘Mel is well known and loved for her stint on The Amazing Race Australia in 2011 with sister Alana.
‘She is also the consummate MC and has hosted everything from fashion events, modelling comps and award nights.’
Hospital boss John Lofthouse confirmed his staff had passed on information about Kate, saying: ‘This was a foolish prank call that we all deplore.’
A Scotland Yard spokesman said yesterday: ‘Police were called at approximately 9.25am on Friday, December 7, to a report of a woman found unconscious an address in Weymouth Street, W1.
‘London Ambulance Service attended and the woman was pronounced dead at the scene.
‘Inquiries are continuing to establish the circumstances of the incident.
‘The death is not being treated as suspicious at this stage’.
In a statement, the Royal College of Nursing said: ‘The Royal College of Nursing has expressed sadness at the death of the nurse from the London hospital treating the Duchess of Cambridge who took a hoax call about the Duchess’s condition.
‘Jacintha Saldanha, who was found dead this morning, had worked at the King Edward VII Hospital for more than four years and was described by the hospital as a first-class nurse who had cared diligently for hundreds of patients during her time there.’
Dr Peter Carter, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary, said: ‘This is tragic news, and the thoughts of all at the Royal College of Nursing go to the family of Jacintha Saldanha.
‘It is deeply saddening that a simple human error due to a cruel hoax could lead to the death of a dedicated and caring member of the nursing profession.’
MailOnline did not publish details of the tragedy until the hospital confirmed the woman’s family had been contacted.
The Duchess of Cambridge is now resting at the London home she shares with Prince William after her release from the hospital where she had been recovering from hyperemesis gravidarum.
She was forced to cancel a string of engagements because of her acute morning sickness.
Kate, who was admitted to hospital on Monday, returned to Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace and cancelled upcoming engagements after doctors told her to rest.
And she may have to recuperate without Prince William by her side, as he may be returning to duty with his Search and Rescue squadron at RAF Valley in Anglesey, it has been reported.
She missed a planned fundraising engagement in the City of London on Wednesday because she was confined to hospital.
William and the Duchess of Cambridge had been hoping to keep the news they were expecting a baby to themselves until Christmas Day.
But with Kate admitted to hospital with acute morning sickness, they had little choice but to make the announcement.
They delighted millions around the world – including their own families – with the happy news.
But as the word spread, the parents-to-be were together in hospital, facing the first hurdle in a much longed for pregnancy.
Kate, 30, who is barely eight weeks pregnant, was taken to the hospital just after Sunday lunch by her husband and immediately put on a drip to stop her becoming dehydrated.