LONDON -- A nurse who took a hoax call from two Australian disc jockeys asking about the condition of Kate Middleton, Prince William’s pregnant wife, has been found dead, the hospital where the woman worked confirmed Friday.
British news reports, citing unnamed sources, said Jacintha Saldanha’s death was a suspected suicide. Scotland Yard said that the death was being treated "as unexplained."
Saldanha was a nurse at King Edward VII Hospital in London, the private facility where Middleton, who is the duchess of Cambridge, was taken this week for treatment for acute morning sickness, which prompted the royal family to announce her pregnancy.
On Tuesday, two Australian DJs speaking in fake British accents and posing as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, telephoned the hospital asking to speak to Middleton and for an update on her condition. A duped nurse told the “royal” callers that the duchess was asleep, had been rehydrated and was no longer vomiting.
The hospital’s chief executive, John Lofthouse, said Friday that his staff was shocked by Saldanha’s death.
“Jacintha has worked at the King Edward VII Hospital for more than four years,” Lofthouse told reporters. “She was an excellent nurse and well-respected and popular with all of her colleagues. We can confirm that Jacintha was recently the victim of a hoax call to the hospital. The hospital had been supporting her through this very difficult time.”
Lofthouse described Saldanha as “a first-class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients during her time with us.”
Palace officials released a statement saying that Prince William and his wife were “deeply saddened” by Saldanha’s death.
“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,” the statement said.
[Updated 12:40 p.m. Dec. 7: Palace officials added that they had been supportive of the hospital through the uproar. “At no point did the palace complain to the hospital about the incident," said a palace spokesman, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity. "On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and the hospital staff at all times.]
After the prank call and the ensuing furor over the invasion of Middleton’s privacy, the radio station apologized for the hoax, saying that the two DJs had never expected to get through to hospital staff because of their “terrible accents.”
[Updated 12:40 p.m. Dec. 7: On Friday, the company that owns 2Day FM, which bills itself as “Sydney’s #1 Hit Music Station,” said on its Facebook page that the two hosts who pulled the stunt, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, were both “deeply shocked” and would not present their show “until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy.”]
Middleton was released from the hospital Thursday.
Scotland Yard said that officers were called about 9:35 a.m. Friday to an address on Weymouth Street in central London where a woman had been found unconscious. The street is around the corner from the hospital.
The woman was pronounced dead at the scene. An investigation is continuing.
[Updated 12:40 p.m. Dec. 7: “We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha,” the family said in a statement issued through police. They asked for privacy.]
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