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Associated Press, Published December 08 2012

Anger at Australian radio station over royal hoax

LONDON — The British hospital that fell victim to a prank call from two Australian DJs asking questions about the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge condemned the hoax on Saturday, as the radio station behind the prank tried to defend itself against rising anger a day after the nurse who took the call was found dead.

The body of Jacintha Saldanha, 46, was found early Friday at nurses’ housing provided by the London hospital where Prince William's wife, the former Kate Middleton, was being treated for acute morning sickness this week.

Police have made no connection between her death and the prank call, but people from London to Sydney have been making the assumption she died because of the stress.

The DJs have apologized for the hoax and taken the show off the air, but station 2day FM was forced to yank its Facebook page after it received thousands of angry comments and complaints have reportedly flooded into Australia's media regulator.

Rhys Holleran, CEO of 2DayFM's parent company Southern Cross Austereo, said the hosts were shocked and devastated by news of Saldanha's death.

“This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen and we're deeply saddened by it,” Holleran said during a news conference in Melbourne on Saturday. “I spoke to both presenters early this morning and it's fair to say they're completely shattered.”

Greig and Christian have been offered counseling, Holleran said.

“These people aren't machines, they're human beings,” he said. “We're all affected by this.”

Holleran would not say who came up with the idea for the call, only that “these things are often done collaboratively.” He said 2DayFM would work with authorities, but was confident the station hadn't broken any laws.

Lord Glenarthur, the chairman of King Edward VII's Hospital, wrote the chairman of the radio station's owner, saying the consequence of the prank “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,” he wrote in the letter.

Police released a grainy photo of Saldanha on Saturday. A native of India, she had lived in Bristol in southwestern England with her family for the past nine years, Scotland Yard confirmed.

Police said her death is being treated as “unexplained,” though they said they didn't find anything suspicious. A coroner will make a determination on the cause next week.

Flowers were left outside the hospital's nurses’ building. Attached to the 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.”

Britain's Press Association reported she had a partner, Benedict Barboza, and a teenage son and daughter. In a statement, Saldanha's family said they were “deeply saddened” by the death and asked for privacy.

“She was a lovely, lovely person who always spoke to you when you saw her in the street,” neighbor Mary Atwell told the agency. “She fitted in well around here, they all did. They've lived here for at least 10 years and were very quiet and pleasant.”

During the call, a woman using the often-mimicked voice of Britain's monarch asked about the duchess’ health. She was told by the second nurse who took the call from Saldanha that the duchess, the former Kate Middleton, “hasn't had any retching with me and she's been sleeping on and off.”

The Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates radio broadcasting, says it has received complaints about the prank and is discussing the matter with the Sydney-based station, though it has not yet begun an investigation.

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.

St. James's Palace, the office of the duchess and her husband Prince William, expressed sadness at Saldanha's death, but insisted it had not complained about the hoax. King Edward VII's Hospital said it did not reprimand Saldanha, nor had plans to discipline her.

Officials from St. James's Palace have said the duchess is not yet 12 weeks pregnant. The child would be the first for her and William.


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