Jacintha Saldanha: Family question whether she should have answered Kate Middleton hoax call
THE family of a nurse who is thought to have killed herself after handling a prank call targeting Kate Middleton has questioned whether she should ever have been put in a position where she had to fill in as a receptionist.
Jacintha Saldanha, 46, was found dead in her staff accommodation at the King Edward VII private hospital in London last December after she put through a call from two Australian radio presenters pretending to be the Queen and the Prince of Wales.
A duty nurse on the Duchess of Cambidge’s ward then divulged details of the Duchess’s treatment for severe pregnancy sickness, which was broadcast by Sydney-based 2Day FM.
At an interim hearing of the inquest into her death, a barrister representing Mrs Saldanha's family said they were keen to establish whether she was suitably trained “to deal with the difficulties that she faced” and whether having to answer the phone in the matron’s office was a breach of her employment contract.
John Cooper QC told the hearing at Westminster Coroner’s Court: “We would like to examine why it was that Mrs Saldanha was placed in a position in the matron’s office where she was receiving calls from outside agencies and whether there was a security policy in place to inform those due to carry out those policies.
“Was it within her contract of employment and capabilities to be a receptionist? Was she properly placed in the position that she was, to deal with the difficulties that she faced? That is the thrust of our position in relation to the hospital.”
The coroner, Dr Fiona Wilcox, said: “You are concerned by whether Mrs Saldanha knew what she was doing and whether she had been trained to do it?”
Mr Cooper agreed, and said the family wanted to see copies of both Mrs Saldanha’s contract of employment and the hospital’s confidentiality and security policy for dealing with phone calls for patients.
Mrs Saldanha’s husband Benedict Barboza, 49, son Junal, 17, and daughter Lisha, 14, sat in the public gallery of the court as a series of applications were made.
Dr Wilcox agreed to a request from the hospital for the duty nurse who spoke at length to DJs Mel Greig and Mike Christian to be allowed to give evidence anonymously. The nurse, who will be a key witness at the inquest, was also the last member of the hospital’s staff to speak to Mrs Saldanha.
Fiona Barton QC, representing the King Edward VII Hospital, said: “The particular facts of this case cry out for anonymity of the staff involved.
“It is certainly open to argument that these tragic events resulted at least in part from media actions and intrusive media interest.
“There is, in particular, another individual, a duty nurse within the hospital, who was involved in the telephone conversation and we would be very anxious to prevent the duty nurse from coming under the same media pressure and scrutiny that happened when the phone call was released.”
Dr Wilcox granted the request for anonymity, which was not opposed by any of the parties in the case, though she said she did so “with a heavy heart” because inquests should be open public hearings.
Mr Cooper also said the family disputed a claim which has previously been made by Southern Cross Media, owner of 2DayFM, that it had phoned the hospital “four or five times” after the prank call to try to warn it of the intended broadcast. The hospital is understood to have no record of the calls being received.
Greig and Christian will not be called to give evidence, but the inquest will hear from the staff who found Mrs Saldanha’s body and the hospital’s chief executive, John Lofthouse.
Three notes left by Mrs Saldanha will also be admitted in evidence.
The hearing was adjourned until May 2.
Afterwards Keith Vaz MP, who acts as the family’s spokesman, said they would “never, ever come to terms with her death, they loved her so much”.
He said: “It is now 109 days since the tragic death of Jacintha Saldanha, who would have celebrated her birthday last Sunday.
“This is the beginning of the end of the legal process but for them it is also time to reflect on the life of their beloved mother and wife.
“They miss her every day, they are still suffering from enormous grief and they want in their own time to grieve for her.”
Mr Lofthouse said he wanted to “once again” send his “deepest condolences” to Mrs Saldanha’s family, but said it was “inappropriate” for the hospital to comment further at this stage.