The hospital nurse found dead after taking a hoax phone call about the Duchess of Cambridge blamed herself for falling for the prank and confessed to a colleague that she did not know what to do, an inquest has heard.
Jacintha Saldanha, 46, wrote an apologetic email after being tricked by two Australian DJs into thinking that the Queen was on the line inquiring about the condition of the Duchess, who was pregnant and suffering from acute morning sickness.
Mrs Saldanha took the original call and then passed it to a second nurse who told the DJs posing as the Queen and Prince Philip that Kate was “comfortable”. After the second nurse ended the call, she said that she replaced the handset and “looked directly at Jacintha and said there was something wrong with the phone call, it wasn’t right”.
In her email to the second nurse, Mrs Saldanha said: “It’s all my fault. I feel very bad about this to get you involved. If there was anything I could do to mend this I would do it.”
The email went on: “I’m very upset and don’t know what to do. Things are all going in the wrong direction.”
Mrs Saldanha, who was in charge of the hospital that night, said that she was “terribly sorry” and added: “Please blame me for this. I accept the fault was mine. I should have checked before I gave the call to you. I can only say sorry. Please accept my apologies.”
Asked to describe Mrs Saldanha, the nurse said: “She was a hard-working, reliable, resourceful, professional nurse who I respected and admired and I felt safe when I was talking to her. It was always a pleasure to know we were on the same shift.”
Mrs Saldanha was found dead in nursing accommodation three days after the original call to London’s King Edward VII’s Hospital in December 2012.
Benedict Barboza, Ms Saldanha’s husband, told the inquest into her death that she had never suffered from any psychological problems or tried to harm herself.
The inquest heard that the first call by Australian DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian was followed by four more as the station, 2Day FM, sought permission to use the clip. They did not secure permission but ran the clip after legal advice. Ms Greig attended yesterday’s inquest in London. She was not due to give evidence but said that she was prepared to answer questions about what happened.
During the recorded conversation, the other nurse said that she believed she would be talking to the Queen because of the impression given to her by Mrs Saldanha. She said she addressed the caller as “ma’am” and spoke about Kate’s condition, saying she was “comfortable”.
“I started feeling nervous when the caller talked to a male voice asking about taking the corgis for a walk. This seemed inappropriate for the call,” said the nurse, who cannot be named for legal reasons. “I thought it was a prank as soon as I heard about the corgis.”
The hospital’s matron, Caroline Cassells, said she tried to reassure Mrs Saldanha and said there had been no mention of disciplinary action despite the breaching of hospital protocols which stated that no information should be given to callers about high-profile patients.
The matron said that she had also received an email the day before the nurse died but was unable to deal with it immediately. She wrote to her later, urging her not to worry about what had happened.
“I do regret not answering that email earlier, whether it would have made any difference or not I don’t know,” said the matron. “There was no indication that she wasn’t coping.”
The chief executive of Southern Cross Media Group, the parent company of 2Day FM which carried out the prank call, said it does not hold the two DJs responsible for the broadcast. Rhys Holleran said: “Southern Cross Radio takes full responsibility for the broadcast. It does not apportion blame to any of its announcers.”
The inquest continues.
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