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Hospital slams prank call radio station over nurse's death

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
December 11, 2012 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hospital chairman slams "truly appalling" decision to air the prank call on 2Day FM
  • Australia's media regulator says it is talking to the radio station about the hoax call
  • Australian DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian "mutually decide" to go off air
  • Nurse Jacintha Saldanha was found dead after taking the prank call on Catherine

London (CNN) -- The British hospital where a nurse apparently committed suicide after being duped by a hoax call over Prince William's pregnant wife condemned the radio station responsible in a strongly worded letter on Saturday.

Two DJs from Australian radio station 2Day FM, impersonating Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, called the hospital Tuesday and gained information about the condition of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge -- which they subsequently played on air.

On Friday, the nurse who transferred the call through to the ward, Jacintha Saldanha, was found dead.

"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," wrote hospital chairman Lord Glenarthur.

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Management's decision then to broadcast the recorded call "was truly appalling," said Lord Glenarthur in the letter addressed to Max Moore-Wilton, chairman of Southern Cross Austereo, which owns the radio station.

"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."

Lord Glenarthur called on the radio station to take steps "to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated."

The fallout from Saldanha's death has stretched from Britain to Australia -- with questions being raised about how far is too far in the effort to find out details about Catherine's pregnancy.

The two Australian DJs behind the practical joke, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, have come under fire, with some using the phrase "blood on your hands" to condemn their actions on the Sydney-based radio station.

"Pranksters Face World Fury," screamed the front-page of the UK's Daily Mirror on Saturday, while Daily Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon said it was "not so funny to hear two grown adults call up a hospital ward full of sick people to try to scam information about one of them."

Read more: Nurse's death casts glare on 'shock jocks'

The DJs have since apologized, and "mutually decided" to go off the air for an undetermined period, Rhys Holleran, CEO of the Southern Cross Austereo media group, said Saturday during a news conference.

But he defended the legality of the station's action, saying he was "very confident that we haven't done anything illegal."

"This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen, and we are deeply saddened by it," he said.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority, the country's media regulator, has not yet commented on the case.

However, it will be "engaging with the licensee, Today FM Sydney, around the facts and issues surrounding the prank call," said the regulator's chairman, Chris Chapman.

News of Saldanha's death broke Friday, with the hospital saying she "was recently the victim of a hoax call."

London's Metropolitan Police said that Saldanha, 46, had living quarters in central London provided by her workplace.

Police said they were notified Friday morning that a woman was found unconscious at the address. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Police are treating the death as "unexplained."

A post-mortem examination will be held next week, police said.

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said Saturday that he "thinks this is a very sad case and his thoughts are with her family and colleagues."

Throughout the controversy surrounding the hoax, authorities did not identify the nurse. Her identity was released after her death.

Audio of the call posted online suggests a woman spoke briefly to the DJs before she put the call through early Tuesday morning to the ward where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for acute morning sickness.

"They were the world's worst accents ever. We were sure 100 people at least before us would've tried the same thing. ... We were expecting to be hung up on. We didn't even know what to say when we got through," Greig told listeners Thursday.

Off the air, Greig and Christian tweeted about the practical joke on Thursday and earlier Friday, promising "more on the #royalprank." The pair's Twitter accounts were taken down late Friday.

Some listeners applauded the prank, like one who identified himself as Guido on the station's Facebook page and wrote, "It is only a joke people! it was great i love it!!!"

Others were outraged, with such negative comments outnumbering positive ones on 2DayFM's Facebook page before the nurse's death.

"Your stunt was done at a time in this country where there is paranoia about the intrusion of the media into people's lives," Gary Slenders wrote. "I know you will say it is harmless fun, the management of 2DayFM will say that it won't happen again, but this is exactly where the phone hacking scandal started."

The outcry grew exponentially after the hospital confirmed Saldanha's death, leading the Coles supermarket chain to remove all its advertising from 2DayFM.

"This death is on your conscience," reads one Facebook post. Several accused the two of having "blood on your hands."

Saldanha's family released a statement asking for privacy and directing questions to police. She is survived by her husband and two children.

"We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha," said the statement, released by police.

Saldanha worked at the King Edward VII Hospital for more than four years, and she was described as an "excellent nurse," well-respected by coworkers, the hospital statement said.

The hospital "had been supporting her throughout this difficult time," it said.

A St. James's Palace spokesman said: "The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are deeply saddened to learn of the 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."

Separately, a palace spokesman told CNN: "At no point did the palace complain to the hospital about the incident. On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times."

The hospital said Wednesday that it deeply regretted the call had been put through.

CNN's Laura Perez Maestro, Max Foster, Per Nyberg, Chelsea J. Carter and Tim Lister contributed to this report.

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