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Australian radio presenters express sorrow over nurse's apparent suicide following prank tragedy

Hospital spokesman queries if station sought to make contact before broadcast

The two Australian radio presenters at the centre of an international storm over a hoax call linked to a London nurse’s apparent suicide have broken their silence, expressing remorse in two tearful interviews aired on prime-time TV.

As Michael Christian and Mel Greig declared themselves “shattered, gutted, heartbroken”, the chief executive of their network, Rhys Holleran, claimed that staff tried “on no less than five occasions” to contact the King Edward VII’s Hospital before airing the pre-recorded conversation with Jacintha Saldanha and another nurse. Ms Saldanha, 46, was found dead in her flat three days later.

However, a spokesman for the hospital – where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for acute morning sickness last week – challenged Mr Holleran’s version of events. “Following the hoax call, the station did not talk to anyone in hospital senior management or anyone at the company that handles our media inquiries,” he said.

David Cameron described the nurse’s death as “an absolute tragedy”, adding: “Everyone will want to reflect on how it was allowed to happen.” A post-mortem examination will take place today.

Southern Cross Austereo (SCA), which owns the 2Day FM station where Ms Greig and Mr Christian had a regular slot, has suspended all prank calls. Shares in SCA fell 6 per cent today.

The broadcasting watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, is expected to launch an inquiry, despite the network proclaiming itself satisfied its protocols were followed. SCA claimed that after its staff unsuccessfully attempted to contact the hospital, “the segment was referred to an internal review process which included legal review and authorisation was granted”.

Mr Holleran denied there was a “cultural problem” at 2Day FM, which has become notorious for stunts.

The two DJs were told about Ms Saldanha’s death in the early hours of Saturday. “It was the worst phone call I’ve ever had in my life,” said Ms Greig, who wept frequently. “My first question was, ‘Was she a mother?’”

In their interviews the pair said they had expected to be cut off within moments, pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles. Instead, Ms Saldanha, who answered the phone, put them through to the Duchess’s ward. The joke, said Mr Christian, was supposed to be on the radio hosts. “It was something that was just fun and light-hearted … It was completely innocent,” he said. Ms Greig agreed, saying: “It was meant to be just a silly little prank … It was never meant to go that far.”

Both presenters, who have been suspended indefinitely, said they were “incredibly sorry”. Asked what she would say to the family if they were watching, she replied: “I’ve wanted to just reach out to them and just give them a big hug and say sorry, and I hope they’re OK, I really do. I hope they get through this.”

Labour MP Keith Vaz, who has visited Ms Saldanha’s family in Bristol,  said they were in “terrible distress” and urged the hospital to provide them with more support. In response, the hospital said its chief executive spoke to the nurse’s partner on Friday by phone and offered to meet him whenever he wanted.