Family of nurse who killed herself had 'no clue' about radio hoax call
Published 09/12/2012 | 05:00
Hospital where prank call took place hits out at Australian shock jocks' boss over "dedicated nurses' humiliation" and "tragic beyond words" suicide
The relatives of nurse Jacintha Saldanha have revealed that she told no one in the family about the prank call that has been blamed for driving her to suicide.
Members of the family gathered at the Indian home of Ms Saldanha's mother-in-law, Carmine Barboza, to console each other after news reached them of the tragedy.
They said that neither Ms Saldanha nor her husband, Benedict Barboza, had talked to them about the hoax phone call nor given any clue that she was under any pressure or strain.
"Benedict used to call every day but neither he nor Jacintha said anything about what had happened. Everything seemed normal," said Carmine Barboza, 69.
"We got a call last night from Benedict, informing us that Jacintha had died. He was crying and couldn't speak much. We don't know whether we'll be able to bring her dead body back to India, but we desperately hope so.
"We spoke to Benedict again this morning and he said he hadn't been allowed to see her body yet because of legal formalities and that the body will not be handed over before Monday. We want to bring her to India to perform her last rites."
Mrs Barboza said the couple spent last new year with the family in Udupi, along with their teenage children.
"Jacintha was a very caring woman," she said. "She used to call us every Sunday without fail. We just cannot believe what has happened."
Ms Saldanha and her husband were married in 1993 and moved to Muscat in Oman, before moving to the UK nine years ago.
Relatives said that the family returned to India every couple of years.
Yesterday, relatives gathered at the Barbozas' smart single-storey home in Sorkala, near the town of Shirva in Karnataka, to grieve.
ANALYSIS living section
Irene Barboza, Saldanha's sister-in-law, said the family first heard the news on Friday at about 8pm. Other members of the family made it clear that they were too grief-stricken to talk to journalists.
Staff at the medical college where Ms Saldanha trained in Mangalore described her as very dedicated.
"Jacintha was a very efficient, intelligent and lively personality, who had won laurels in her nursing studies," said Reverend Sister Aileen Mathias, chief nursing officer at the Father Muller Medical College.
Sister Mathias said that, after completing nursing school, Saldanha had gone on to pursue advanced nursing qualifications, before moving to Muscat. Later, after moving to the UK, she appeared to be thriving in London.
Ms Saldanha and her family were active members of the expatriate Konkani community in the UK – people who hail from the Konkan region, which runs down the south-west coast of India.
At a Konkani Community Association Christmas celebration in 2009, they were voted family of the day.
Messages of sympathy were posted in comment threads on news websites in her native India yesterday.
One read: "Dear Benedict and the children. I have no words to console you at this crucial moment. I am shocked to hear the news. I would like to say that I am supporting you all with my prayers. I cannot believe that Jessy is no more. Please trust in the Lord and take courage."
Father Richard Coelho, administrator of the Father Muller Medical College Hospital, posted a message to the family that said: "It is really shocking to hear that Jacintha is no more. May her soul rest in peace and that you all may have the strength from the Lord to bear this great loss.
"It should not have happened at all because Jacintha is not at fault. May those who are responsible for her death understand the mistake they have committed and ask pardon from the Lord."
Others called for the Indian government to put pressure on the Australian authorities to take action against the radio station.
Ms Saldanha, 46, was duped by two Australian DJs – who impersonated the Queen and the Prince of Wales – into putting through a call to the Duchess of Cambridge's nurse at King Edward VII's Hospital in London.
She was found dead on Friday after apparently taking her own life.
Relatives and friends rallied round to comfort her husband Benedict, 49, and their son and daughter, aged 14 and 16. All three were at the family's terrace home in Bristol, yesterday, struggling to come to terms with the tragic death.
A family friend in Bristol said: "Ben is utterly devastated. He cannot believe it. They used to speak most days on the phone when she was away working. They were very close, but he cannot understand what's happened."
Neighbours have kept a respectful distance and left the family to mourn their loss in private. All appeared torn between anger at the DJs and shock and deep sadness for the family.
"She was a lovely, lovely person who always spoke to you when you saw her in the street," said neighbour Mary Atwell, 56.
"She simply couldn't live with herself, I suppose. But you could always see that she was very dedicated to her job. She was a lovely person."
She also hit out at DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who put on fake English accents and pretended to be the Queen and Prince of Wales for the prank.
Ms Atwell said: "Both DJs should be sacked, they should never have been allowed to do what they did."
The hospital that fell victim to the prank call condemned the hoax yesterday, ratcheting up the pressure on 2Day FM, their radio station.
Lord Glenarthur, the chairman of King Edward VII's Hospital, wrote to the chairman of the radio station's parent company, Southern Cross Austereo, Max Moore-Wilton to urge him not to let such a thing happen again.
The consequence of the prank, he wrote, "was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses who were simply doing their job tending to their patients".
He continued: "The longer term consequence has been reported around the world and is, frankly, tragic beyond words."
Rhys Holleran, the chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo, said: "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."
His failure to apologise fully prompted an angry response from hospital chiefs already grieving Mrs Saldanha's loss.
Advertisers have already withdrawn support from the station following the prank.
Police said her death was being treated as "unexplained", though they said they didn't find anything suspicious.
Police have made no connection between her death and the prank call, but people from London to Sydney have been making the assumption that she died because of stress from the call.
Ms Saldanha had worked for four years at the hospital. She took the hoax call last Tuesday by the two DJs and transferred the call to the nurse caring for the Duchess.
During the call, a woman using the often-mimicked voice of Britain's monarch asked about the Duchess' health. She was told by the second nurse who took the call from Ms Saldanha that the Duchess, the former Kate Middleton, "hasn't had any retching with me and she's been sleeping on and off".
The recorded conversation sparked international headlines and Mel Greig and Michael Christian soon apologised for the prank.
They have said they will not return to the station until further notice.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority says it has received complaints about the prank and is discussing the matter with the station, although it has not yet begun an investigation.
The way in which the hoax call was able to get through was described by royal sources as a one-off lapse of strict security protocols.
At night, the hospital's reception is closed, and nurses are expected to accept calls that come in but only to pass on messages and not transfer calls. Royal sources said they did not hold the hospital responsible for the lapse.
Royal aides said the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge maintained "complete confidence" in the hospital. The Duchess would return there should she require any further treatment during her pregnancy.
"There is no doubt about that," said an aide. "At no point during the process did the Duke and Duchess lay any blame on anyone there. They only offered their sympathy and support at the time, and even more so now."
Full text of hospital's letter
This is the letter written by the chairman of King Edward VII's Hospital, Lord Glenarthur, to Max Moore-Wilton, chairman of 2day FM's parent company Southern Cross Austereo.
"I am writing to protest in the strongest possible terms about the hoax call made from your radio station, 2Day FM, to this hospital last Tuesday.
"King Edward VII's Hospital cares for sick people, and it was extremely foolish of your presenters even to consider trying to lie their way through to one of our patients, let alone actually make the call.
"Then to discover that, not only had this happened, but that the call had been pre-recorded and the decision to transmit approved by your station's management, was truly appalling.
"The immediate consequence of these premeditated and ill-considered actions was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses who were simply doing their job tending to their patients.
"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."