THE radio station behind the hoax call to the hospital where Kate Middleton was being treated has mounted a provocative defence of its actions, saying hoax calls "as a craft" have been going for "decades and decades".
It comes after Jacintha Saldanha, a nurse at the King Edward VII Hospital who was duped by the call from the Australian radio station, 2Day FM, was found dead yesterday in a suspected suicide.
Mrs Saldanha, a 46-year-old mother of two, was found unconscious near the hospital, where the Duchess spent three nights earlier this week being treated for severe pregnancy sickness.
The Australian media regulator said it has been inundated with complaints about the radio station's stunt.
At a press conference this morning, however, Rhys Holleran, chief executive of 2Day FM's parent company Southern Cross Austereo, stood by the two DJs who called the hospital pretending to be the Queen and the Prince of Wales, insisting that he was confident the station had not broken any laws.
He said: "This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen and we're deeply saddened by it.
"I spoke to both presenters early this morning and it's fair to say they're completely shattered.
"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."
Mr Holleran said the company and the presenters had "mutually decided that their show will not run until further notice out of respect of what can only be described as a tragedy."
The news of Mrs Saldanha's death has led to calls in the Australian media for the two presenters to be sacked.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates radio broadcasting in the country, said it had received a flood of complaints but is yet to launch a formal investigation.
A spokesman said they were discussing the matter with the Sydney-based radio station.
Advertisers, including supermarket giant Coles and telecommunications company Telstra, have reportedly deserted the station following the prank.
Mrs Saldanha was working on reception when she took the call at 5.30am on Tuesday from the two presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian.
She put the call straight through to the Duchess's ward, where another nurse spent two minutes chatting about the Duchess's condition and treatment.
The prank call was pre-recorded and vetted by lawyers before being broadcast to listeners in Sydney.
In their initial apology the two presenters said: "We were very surprised that our call was put through. We thought we'd be hung up on as soon as they heard our terrible accents.
"We're very sorry if we've caused any issues and we're glad to hear that Kate is doing well."
It is not the first time the station has been condemned. In 2009, the Australian Communications and Media Authority imposed a licence condition for five years ordering 2Day FM to provide increased protection for children after a 14-year-old was attached to a lie detector test and admitted to being raped live on air.
Jonathan Holmes, presenter of the media watch programme on ABC, said on BBC Radio 4 this morning: "2Day FM is a very popular station, especially with young people, the 15 to 25 age group. Those two DJs are in their 20s, one of them had only just started.
"It is very successful and one of the reasons it is sucessful is precisely because of these kind of japes, some of which are in very dubious taste. It's managers constantly tread the edge of what they are allowed to get away with."
Police said the cause of Mrs Saldanha's death was "unexplained" but they were not treating it as suspicious.
Paramedics tried to revive her but she was pronounced dead at the scene. Sources said she appeared to have taken her own life.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said they were "deeply saddened" by the news.
Nurses console each other outside the King Edward VII hospital in London.
In a statement, the hospital said: “It is with very deep sadness that we confirm the tragic death of a member of our nursing staff, Jacintha Saldanha. Jacintha has worked at the King Edward VII Hospital for more than four years, she was an excellent nurse and a well respected and popular member of staff with all her colleagues.
“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.”
John Lofthouse, chief executive of the hospital, said: “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies at this time are with her family and friends. Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much-loved and valued colleague.”
Lord Glenarthur, chairman of the hospital, said: “This is a tragic event. Jacintha was a first class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients during her time with us. She will be greatly missed.”
On Saturday morning there were a growing number of flowers left outside the hospital's nurses' block, just around the corner from the main building.
Attached to a bunch red, white and blue flowers, a note read: "Dear Jacintha, our thoughts are with you and your family. From all your fellow nurses, we bless your soul. God bless."
The note was signed: "Sarah Storey (fellow nurse from the next block) (THE HEART HOSPITAL)"
A St James's Palace spokesman said: "The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jacintha Saldanha.
"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."
Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister, called Ms Saldanha's death a terrible tragedy, saying: "Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time."
Michael Christian, the DJ who pretended to be the Prince of Wales, apologised earlier this week but carried on tweeting about it and only this morning tweeted: "MORE on the #royalprank after 7.30 tonight."
Both Twitter accounts have since been suspended.