LONDON (Reuters) - A nurse who answered a prank call at the London hospital that was treating Prince William’s pregnant wife Kate for morning sickness has been found dead, the hospital said on Friday, in a suspected suicide.
The death comes days after the King Edward VII hospital apologised for being duped by an Australian radio station and relaying details about Kate’s condition which made headlines around the globe.
“It is with very deep sadness that we confirm the tragic death of a member of our nursing staff, Jacintha Saldanha,” John Lofthouse, the King Edward’s chief executive told reporters outside the central London hospital.
“We can confirm that Jacintha was recently the victim of a hoax call to the hospital. The hospital had been supporting her throughout this difficult time.”
Police said they had been called at 9:35 a.m. about a woman found unconscious at an address near the hospital. The woman was pronounced dead after ambulance staff arrived.
Police said the death was being treated as unexplained but they were not looking for anyone else, indicating the nurse had taken her own life.
William and Kate, who left the hospital on Thursday, said they were “deeply saddened” by the death of the nurse, who was married with two children.
“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 statement from William’s office said.
The radio station launched its stunt in the wake of a frenzy of media attention in Britain and worldwide after officials announced Kate was pregnant with a future British king or queen.
Two presenters from Australia’s 2Day radio station called the hospital early on Tuesday British time, pretending to be William’s grandmother the Queen and his father, the heir-to-the throne Prince Charles.
Despite unconvincing accents, presenters Michael Christian and Mel Greig were put through to the ward where Kate was being treated and were given details about how she was faring.
Saldanha had answered the call as it was early morning and there were no receptionists on duty, and had passed it to a nurse on the ward. Saldanha, who had worked at the hospital for four years, had not been facing any disciplinary action, a source said.
“She was an excellent nurse and well-respected and popular with all of her colleagues,” Lofthouse said.
William’s office said there had been no royal complaint about the breach of confidentiality, although the hospital said it was reviewing its “telephone protocols”.
“On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times,” a royal spokesman said.
William’s father, Prince Charles, had made light of the intrusion, joking to reporters after the incident: ”How do you know I‘m not a radio station?’
The private hospital is one of Britain’s most exclusive and has a history of treating members of the royal family, including the Queen’s husband Philip who was admitted in June for a bladder infection after taking part in a jubilee pageant on the Thames river.
The prank call and its tragic aftermath comes as Britain’s own media scrambles to agree a new system of self regulation and avoid state intervention following a damning inquiry into reporting practices.
A recording of the call was widely available on the Internet and many newspapers printed a transcript of the call.
The Australian radio station and its owner Southern Cross Austereo said the presenters were shocked and would stay off their show until further notice out of respect for Saldanha’s death.
”Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) and 2Day FM are deeply saddened by the tragic news of the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha from King Edward VII’s Hospital and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family.
“Chief Executive Officer 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,” an SCA statement said.
The two presenters deleted their Twitter accounts shortly after the news broke and there was widespread condemnation of their actions on the social media website.
“Remember that #RoyalPrank ...? Yeah, the girl you humiliated is dead. You must feel great,” one wrote.
Facebook tribute pages swiftly set up after the nurse’s death attracted messages of sympathy, some echoing calls for the radio station to pay compensation to her family and for the presenters to resign.
Saldanha’s body was removed from the red brick, five-storey building where it was found, and transferred to a small private ambulance, shortly after the hospital confirmed her death, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.
She had been staying in staff accommodation in the building, away from her family in the city of Bristol, western England, a source said.
Her family said they were deeply saddened and asked for media to respect their privacy “at this difficult time”, in a statement released by police.
Additional reporting by Peter Schwartzstein and Michael Holden; Editing by Louise Ireland