LONDON (Reuters) - An Australian DJ who hoaxed a London hospital treating Prince William’s wife Kate made an emotional apology on Friday to the family of the nurse who killed herself days after she answered the prank call.
Indian-born Jacintha Saldanha, 46, was found hanging in December 2012, three days after she answered the call from DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian in which they had pretended to be Queen Elizabeth and William’s father, Prince Charles.
Saldanha put the call through to another nurse who disclosed details of Kate’s condition during treatment for acute morning sickness she was suffering in the early stages of pregnancy with son Prince George, leading to headlines around the world.
At the inquest into her death, Coroner Fiona Wilcox said the hoax was “clearly pressing on her mind” when Saldanha stunned family, friends and colleagues by committing suicide in her hospital lodgings.
Greig voluntarily flew over from Australia to attend the inquest at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, and the coroner allowed her to make a statement after the court ruled Saldanha took her own life.
“I am so deeply sorry for your loss. I have wanted to say this to you for so long,” a tearful Greig said directly to Saldanha’s husband and two children.
“This tragedy is always going to stay with me,” she added, weeping as she returned to her seat near the family.
The hoax call was made to the Edward VII hospital at about 5:30 a.m. London time when Saldanha, in her role as night sister, was the most senior figure in the hospital and so dealt with any external calls.
It was followed by four more calls from the 2Day FM station seeking permission to broadcast it, which Wilcox said were almost certainly also answered by Saldanha.
“If Miss Saldanha did take those calls I find it inconceivable that she would have consented ... to its broadcast,” she said.
The two-day inquest heard Saldanha sent emails to colleagues and senior managers in which she repeatedly apologized and blamed herself for the incident. Hospital protocol was that she should have hung up, even if the queen herself had phoned, to verify the caller’s identity.
“I don’t know how to face the bosses tomorrow,” she wrote in one email to another night sister which was read to the court. “I feel so ashamed of myself.”
The day before the prank call, Saldanha had also learned that a grievance, taken out against her by a junior nurse she had been mentoring over accusations of bullying, had not been upheld.
However, Saldanha’s husband of 19 years, Benedict Barboza, said on Thursday his wife had been her usual happy, bubbly self before the incident. He said she was not suffering from stress and had no history of depression.
“The hoax call was clearly pressing upon her mind as were the difficulties she had experienced with her colleague,” said Coroner Wilcox. The hospital said there was no question of disciplinary action and Wilcox accepted the support given to Saldanha by the hospital had been appropriate.
She said her suicide had come as a “complete and total surprise” to all and said her ruling could not apportion any criminal or civil liability. Last year, British prosecutors said the two DJs would face no criminal charges over the death.
“To fellow announcers and DJs, I urge you to speak up if don’t feel comfortable and to consider the feelings of others when trying to make a joke,” Greig said in her court statement. “The joke should always be on us, the DJs.”
The inquest was held just days after it was announced that William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are expecting their second child, with the duchess once again suffering acute morning sickness.
“We would like to thank the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who publicly and privately have supported the family and always been of concern for their welfare,” British lawmaker Keith Vaz, who has been representing the family, told reporters.
“These despicable and cruel actions, this hoax, has changed (the family‘s) lives forever.”
Editing by Alison Williams