Jacintha Saldanha laid to rest, but family's hunt for answers goes on

Hundreds attend funeral at village where nurse who took her own life grew up

Andrew Buncombe
Tuesday 18 December 2012 01:00
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First came a man bearing a simple wooden cross, then a brass band playing dirges. A little way behind them, an ambulance followed carrying the coffin of Jacintha Saldanha as it made one last journey.

The 46-year-old nurse was buried yesterday afternoon in a graveyard in the village of Shirva, lowered into the hard, red earth while her husband, Benedict Barboza, and two children stood hugging each other for support. Purple and white flowers were thrown at the coffin and hundreds of people who had pressed together around the graveside, surrounded by coconut trees, sang hymns and recited prayers.

Afterwards, asked whether he had given any thought to how he and his children might start to try and rebuild their lives when they returned to Britain, Mr Barboza said he could not yet think of that. "I am still at the graveside," he replied.

Mr Barboza, with his teenage children Junal and Lisha, had accompanied Jacintha's coffin as it was flown from London to Mumbai, and then to the coastal town of Mangalore in the state of Karnataka on Sunday afternoon. They had come to bury the wife and mother and also to continue to press for answers, for anything that could further throw light on the circumstances surrounding her death.

Jacintha, who had grown up and completed her nursing training in Mangalore, took her life after receiving a now-notorious call at King Edward VII hospital, where she worked, from two Australian DJs pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles. Believing the call to be genuine, Jacintha transferred the call to another nurse who provided information about the condition of the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge, who was being treated for severe morning sickness. Two days later she was found hanged in her room in the nurse's accommodation complex.

During a memorial service in the high-vaulted Our Lady of Health Church in Shirva, overseen by the Catholic Bishop of Udupi, Dr Gerald Isaac Lobo, more than a 1,000 people packed in to hear prayers, sing hymns and listen to brief eulogies about the woman who died in an "unfortunate incident".

"Jacintha Saldanha spent her entire life looking after people who were sick and today it is our turn to show our appreciation of her work and her life," said Dr Lobo. He added: "Jacintha was a good mother, good wife and understood the pain of people."

He said the nurse had been "popular among her colleagues" and dedicated to her work at the Edward VII Hospital.

Earlier in the day hundreds of villagers had made their way along a twisting track to Mr Barboza's family home to pay their last respects to Jacintha, whose casket was covered by a glass panel through which her face could be seen. Flowers had been hung in the room, candles had been lit and women sang.

"I would not say I am a close friend, but I am from the village and I have come to pay my respects," said Victor Sequieria, a retired member of the merchant navy, who like many in this part of southern India had been obliged to move away to find a living. "The village is very sad. Whenever someone goes, it is sad."

Outside, propped against the wall of the house, was the lid of the coffin. It bore a plaque that read: "Royal Nurse Jacintha Saldanha. RIP."

After the funeral service, to which Jacintha's mother, Carmine, was pushed on a wheelchair, Mr Barboza, accompanied by his son and some friends from Britain and Mumbai, read a statement and answered some questions.

They said they had not yet taken a decision on whether to pursue legal action against the King Edward VII hospital in London where Jacintha had worked for more than four years, splitting her time between the hospital and the family home in Bristol.

Neither did they know whether they would sue the Australian DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian, or their radio station 2DayFM. The DJs have apologised for the prank call in a series of interviews on Australian television, saying they had not expected their call to be put through. But the family say they have not received any apology from them. The show was taken off the air and the DJs have been suspended. They have since gone into hiding after receiving death threats.

"The incident is being investigated and they have assured us a full and fair investigation," said a family friend, Steven Almeida, describing the inquiry that is under way by Scotland Yard.

Mr Barboza looked overcome with grief and bewilderment. He apologised for being unable to provide any more answers and said: "I am exhausted."

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