It started out as a joke, but ended in tragedy.
The sudden death of a nurse who unwittingly accepted a prank call to a London hospital about Prince William's pregnant wife Kate has shocked Britain and Australia, and sparked an angry backlash on Saturday from some who argue the DJs who carried out the hoax should be held responsible.
At first, the call by two irreverent Australian DJs posing as royals was picked up by news outlets around the world as an amusing anecdote about the royal pregnancy. Some complained about the invasion of privacy, the hospital was embarrassed, and the radio presenters sheepishly apologized.
But the prank took a dark twist Friday with the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old mother of two, three days after she took the hoax call. Police have not yet determined Saldanha's cause of death, but people from London to Sydney have been making the assumption that she died because of stress from the call.
King Edward VII's Hospital, where the former Kate Middleton was being treated for acute morning sickness this week, wrote a strongly-worded letter to the 2DayFM radio station's parent company Southern Cross Austereo, condemning the "truly appalling" hoax and urging it to take steps to ensure such an incident would never happen again.
"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 letter read. "The longer term consequence has been reported around the world and is, frankly, tragic beyond words."
The hospital did not comment when asked whether it believed the prank call had directly caused Saldanha's death, only saying that the protest letter spoke for itself.
DJs involved in prank apologise; cops quizzing them
DJs Mel Grieg and Michael Christian, who apologized for the prank on Tuesday, took down their Twitter accounts after they were bombarded by thousands of abusive comments. Rhys Holleran, CEO of Southern Cross Austereo, said the pair have been offered counseling and were taken off the air indefinitely.
No one could have foreseen the tragic consequences of the prank, he stressed.
"I spoke to both presenters early this morning and it's fair to say they're completely shattered," Holleran told reporters on Saturday.
"These people aren't machines, they're human beings," he said. "We're all affected by this."
Details about Saldanha have been trickling out since the duty nurse's body was found at apartments provided by the private hospital, which has treated a line of royals before, including Prince Philip, who was hospitalized there for a bladder infection in June.
The nurse, who was originally from India, had lived with her partner Benedict Barboza and a teenage son and daughter in Bristol, in southwestern England, for the past nine years. The hospital praised her as a "first-class nurse" who was well-respected and popular among colleagues during her four years working there.
Just before dawn on Tuesday, Saldanha was looking after her patients when the phone rang. A woman pretending to be Queen Elizabeth II asked to speak to the duchess, and, believing the caller, Saldanha transferred the call to a fellow nurse caring for the duchess, who spoke to the two DJs about Kate's condition live on air.
During the call — which was put online and later broadcast on news channels worldwide — Grieg mimicked the Britain's monarch's voice and asked about the duchess' health. She was told Kate "hasn't had any retching with me and she's been sleeping on and off." Grieg and Christian, who pretended to be Prince Charles, also discussed with the nurse when they could travel to the hospital to check in on Kate.
Three days later, officers responding to reports that a woman was found unconscious discovered Saldanha, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Police didn't release a cause of death, but said they didn't find anything suspicious. A coroner will make a determination on the cause.
Udipi nurse died due to stress?
In the aftermath of Saldanha's death, some speculated about whether the nurse was subject to pressure to resign or about to be punished for the mistake. Royal officials said Prince William and Kate were "deeply saddened," but insisted that the palace had not complained about the hoax. King Edward VII's Hospital also maintained that it did not reprimand Saldanha.
"We did not discipline the nurse in question. There were no plans to discipline her," a hospital spokesman said. He declined to provide further details, and did not respond to questions about the second nurse's condition.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates radio broadcasting, said it has received complaints about the prank and is discussing the matter with the Sydney-based station, which yanked its Facebook page after it received thousands of angry comments.
Holleran, the radio executive, would not say who came up with the idea for the call. He only said that "these things are often done collaboratively." He said 2DayFM would work with authorities, but was confident the station hadn't broken any laws, noting that prank calls in radio have been happening "for decades."
The station has a history of controversy, including a series of "Heartless Hotline" shows in which disadvantage people were offered a prize that could be taken away from them by listeners.
Police have not yet determined Saldanha's cause of death, but people from London to Sydney have been making the assumption she died because of stress from the call.
Both DJs involved apologized for the prank before Saldanha's death. Their show has been suspended indefinitely.
Australian police on Sunday confirmed they had been contacted by London police and said they would cooperate.
Radio presenters behind hoax call taken off air
Both the Australian radio presenters have been taken off air.
The CEO of the company that owns embattled radio station '2Day FM' has defended the presenters involved in the royal prank phone call, saying there was no way they could have foreseen the tragic outcome of their actions, the Australian Associated Press reported.
Rhys Holleran, CEO of Southern Cross Austereo, said the presenters behind the call, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, were "completely shattered" by the nurse's death.
The radio station has pulled the pair off air, he said, as a mark of respect.
Saldanha answered the hoax call at 5.30am on Wednesday morning, and was helping out on reception at the time of the prank. Giggling DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian were pretending to be the British Queen and Prince Charles and asked her if they could be put through to Kate.
Saldanha connected them to another nurse who gave details of Kate's condition, who was suffering from acute morning sickness at the London hospital.
The exact cause of death remained unclear. However, media has indicated that the woman appeared to have killed herself.
News of the nurse's death has prompted a furious outpouring against the radio station and the two presenters involved.
Saldanha arrived in the UK a decade ago from Udipi near Mangalore in Karnataka.
Nurse's hubby devastated over suicide
The husband of Indian-origin nurse who apparently committed suicide following a prank call over Duchess Kate's pregnancy has finally spoken out about the death of his wife.
Two Australian DJs made a call to the hospital where the Duchess was receiving treatment for her pregnancy complication, hyperemesis gravidarum.
Thinking the call was coming from Queen Elizabeth herself, Jacintha Saldanha, who was helping out at the front desk, transferred the DJs to Kate's private nurse, who gave her an update on the Duchess of Cambridge's condition.
Saldanha was found dead the next day, an apparent suicide brought on by how distraught she was over the incident.
"I am devastated with the tragic loss of my beloved wife Jacintha in tragic circumstances. She will be laid to rest in Shriva, India," Radar Online quoted Benedict Barboza, a hospital accountant, as writing on his Facebook page on Saturday.
"We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha," he wrote.
Nurse's sister looks visibly disturbed by turn of events
Family members of Saldanha on Saturday expressed grief on hearing of her death.
"Morning eight clock, he (Benedict Barboza) rang up to say that she is no more, more than that we do not know, what actually happened. She is dead, that's all," said Camril Barboza, the mother-in-law of Jacintha Saldanha.
Jacintha Saldanha's sister Cerolin D'souza looked quite disturbed.
"She has left us. We were wondering what happened, whether she met with an accident, when she was returning home from the hospital. Yesterday she was to come home, whether it was an accident between the hospital and home, because she was to return home to join her husband and children. When I asked what happened, he was not able to communicate and he broke down," she said.
Meanwhile, Ronald Mahenjis, a distant relative of Jacintha Saldanha, said that he knew nothing about what actually happened with the Indian-origin nurse.
"No, we don't know anything because we are here and his sister also does not know and Benedict's mother also doesn't know anything. This morning only she came to know and when we do not know anything, how can we say that whether it is a hoax call or anything. We do not know anything," he said.
46-year-old Saldanha's unconscious body was found this morning at an address yards away from King Edward VII Hospital.
According to reports, Jacintha answered the hoax call at 5.30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, and was helping out on reception at the time of the prank. DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian were pretending to be the British Queen and Prince Charles and asked her if they could be put through to Kate.
Jacintha connected them to another nurse who gave details of Kate's condition, who was suffering from acute morning sickness at the London hospital.