LONDON Jacintha Saldanha was a kind woman. “She used to walk an elderly neighbour who has dementia… down to the shops and back,” one of her neighbours told London’s The Times.Jacintha Saldanha was a kind woman. “She used to walk an elderly neighbour who has dementia… down to the shops and back,” one of her neighbours told London’s The Times.
The neighbour said Ms Saldanha’s two children, a son and daughter aged 14 and 16, “were always polite and well-behaved. The boy often played football on the green”.
But Ms Saldanha, who often stayed in nurses’ quarters in London away from the family home in Bristol, also described herself to friends as “a very nervous person”, one told The Telegraph. She would have been “hit badly” by the prank phone call to her hospital asking after the Duchess of Cambridge; it would have “played on her mind”.
While there is no clear evidence from Ms Saldanha or anyone else that the prank call by two Australian radio presenters triggered her suspected suicide, news of her death has been greeted by a tidal wave of revulsion that now includes a scathing letter from the head of the hospital concerned to the management of the radio station, 2Day FM in Sydney.
And the two presenters who imitated the Queen and Prince Charles, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, are not only suspended indefinitely but appear to have deleted their Twitter accounts following a barrage of abuse.
Lord Glenarthur, chairman of the King Edward VII hospital where Kate had been staying earlier this week over pregnancy-related illness, sent a letter on Saturday condemning the call and asking for assurances the station would not do anything like that again.
Read Lord Glenarthur’s letterIn a letter to Max Moore-Wilton, chairman of the station’s parent company, Southern Cross Austereo, Lord Glenarthur said he protested in the strongest possible terms over the hoax call, which had been “extremely foolish”. The decision by management to transmit the pre-recorded call was “truly appalling”.
“The longer-term consequence has been reported around the world and is, frankly, tragic beyond words. I appreciate that you cannot undo the damage which has been done but I would urge you to take steps to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated.”
Ms Saldanha was relieving on reception when she took the call, in which Greig purported to be the Queen. She put it through to the ward where another nurse gave intimate details of the duchess’s condition. Media subsequently canvassed questions such as whether the nurses involved should be disciplined, suspended or reported to the British midwifery regulator. The hospital took no such actions.
A palace spokesman said the Royal couple had not complained of the security breach: “On the contrary we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times.”
Ms Saldanha, 46, was found unconscious early on Friday morning and ambulance officers could not revive her. An autopsy is due sometime this week.
According to the Daily Mail, a female executive of the Australian radio station burst into tears when the paper broke the news to her in the middle of the night. She said it couldn’t be true and that the Mail’s call to her must be a hoax. Assured that Ms Saldanha was indeed dead, executive Vicki Heath cried, the paper said.
But British newspapers, presumably relieved to be the innocent parties in a media scandal, are ripping into the station for having continued to skite about the prank even after offering a half-hearted apology earlier in the week, before Ms Saldanha’s death.
After the initial backlash, Christian said, “We’re very sorry if we’ve caused any issues.” But the following day he tweeted, “Still haven’t heard the royal prank that has the world talking? Listen to it here…”
His most recent tweet, promising that the latest on the royal prank was coming up, was posted half an hour before the ambulance was called for Ms Saldanha.
Major advertisers including Coles and Telstra have reportedly cancelled their advertising and the station has suspended all other advertising but chief executive Rhys Holleran has insisted the presenters broke no laws.
“This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen and we’re deeply saddened by it. I spoke to both presenters … And it’s fair to say they’re completely shattered. These people aren’t machines. They’re human beings.”
He added, “Prank calls as a craft in radio have been going for decades and decades. They are not just part of one radio station or one network or one country, they are done worldwide.”
British media have also noted that the radio station had conditions imposed on its licence after an incident in 2009 where a 14-year-old was attached to a lie detector test and admitted on air to having been raped when she was 12.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority said it had received complaints about the hoax call but that complaints should first go to the station: “If a complainant is dissatisfied with the response, the complaint can be made to the ACMA.”
The Daily Mail says the regulator has strict procedures for invasion of privacy but they only apply to news and current affairs shows. The show in question was a music-chart program and so not subject to those rules.
First published on theage.com.au