LONDON – A nurse at the hospital that treated Prince William’s pregnant wife, Kate, has been found dead in a suspected suicide days after being duped by a hoax call from an Australian radio station.
The royal couple said they were “deeply saddened” by Jacintha Saldanha’s death Friday, and the radio station announced it had taken the two presenters who made the call off the air until further notice.
Police said Saldanha’s death is unexplained but it is not being treated as suspicious. Her employers, the private King Edward VII Hospital in central London, refused to comment on media reports that she had taken her own life.
Saldanha had accepted a hoax call from the two presenters pretending to be Queen Elizabeth II and William’s father, Prince Charles, before passing it on to a colleague who divulged details of Kate’s condition.
The hoax caused a global media storm, coming barely a day after the palace revealed the 30-year-old royal was pregnant following her admission to the hospital Monday with severe morning sickness. She stayed three nights.
In what it billed as the “biggest royal prank ever,” presenter Mel Greig from Sydney’s 2Day FM station called the hospital Tuesday pretending to be the queen and asked to speak to the former Kate Middleton.
Saldanha said, “Oh yes, just hold on, Ma’am,” before putting her through to another nurse who revealed that Kate “hasn’t had any retching with me since I’ve been on duty and she has been sleeping on and off.”
Southern Cross Austereo, 2Day FM’s owners, said Greig and her cohost, Michael Christian, “are both deeply shocked” at the news of Saldanha’s death.
“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,” the station said in a statement.
The chief executive of the hospital, John Lofthouse, said the nurse’s death is “tragic.”
“Jacintha was a first-class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients during her time with us” over the last four years,” he said.
“Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much-loved and valued colleague.”
He said the hospital, a favorite of the royals for years, had been trying to help Saldanha “through this very difficult time” after the call sparked intense media coverage.
The family of the nurse, who reportedly had two children, appealed for privacy while they came to terms with her death.
“We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha,” they said in a statement.
St. James’s Palace, the office of William and Kate, also offered its condolences and stressed that it had not complained about the prank.
“The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jacintha Saldanha,” the palace said.
“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.”
A spokesman later added: “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.”
Police said they were called to an address close to the hospital Friday morning following reports that a woman was unconscious, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
“The death is being treated as unexplained,” a statement said. A spokesman said that results of a postmortem were due this weekend.
The Australian presenters had insisted their hoax was lighthearted, and even Prince Charles joked about the incident, saying to reporters asking him about Kate’s condition Thursday, “How do you know I’m not a radio station?”
But news of the nurse’s death sparked outrage on social-networking sites.
More than 8,300 comments had hit 2Day FM’s Facebook page by early Saturday, some saying Greig and Christian had blood on their hands and calling angrily for them to be dismissed.
“Not so darn funny now is it? A British nurse is DEAD for the sake of a couple of cheap laughs. Shame on you!” wrote Kim Wilson.
The widespread shock at the nurse’s death is a sharp contrast with the excitement that greeted the announcement of a new royal heir last week. William and Kate’s first child will be third in line to the British throne.