SYDNEY — Two Australian radio presenters who duped a nurse at a London hospital which treated Prince William’s pregnant wife Catherine have been taken off air as they face public fury after the woman was found dead.
Media reports Friday said nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who had worked at the King Edward VII hospital in London for four years, had committed suicide while police said they were treating the death as unexplained.
Saldanha had accepted the hoax call from two radio presenters from Sydney’s 2Day FM pretending to be Queen Elizabeth II and William’s father Prince Charles, before passing it onto a colleague who divulged details of Kate’s condition.
The radio station said Saturday the presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, “are both deeply shocked” over news of the nurse’s death.
“SCA and the hosts have decided that they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy,” 2Day FM and its owners Southern Cross Austereo said in a statement on the station’s Facebook page.
“Southern Cross Austereo and 2Day FM are deeply saddened by the tragic news of the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha from King Edward VII’s Hospital and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family and all that have been affected by this situation around the world,” it said.
Soon after news of the nurse’s death broke, the radio station’s Facebook page was bombarded with thousands of comments, many attacking the presenters and calling for them to be sacked.
“Not so darn funny now is it? A British nurse is DEAD for the sake of a couple of cheap laughs. Shame on you!” wrote Kim Wilson.
More than 8,300 comments had hit the 2Day FM page by early Saturday, some saying Greig and Christian had blood on their hands and calling angrily for them to be dismissed.
“Hope you get your comeuppance and are looking long and hard at your actions and their consequences. Hope you’re both sacked and spend a very long long time looking for work,” wrote Alastair Drake Hardwick.
For some the incident had echoes of Prince William’s mother Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by paparazzi.
“One would think … the death of Princess Diana would have taught the media a lesson about invasion of privacy of the royal family, but I guess not,” said one commentator posting as Lora LB.
The news prompted wide coverage in Australia, where the prank initially divided the public, with some seeing it as “a bit of harmless fun” and others saying a line had been crossed and everyone had a right to privacy.
Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the death was a terrible tragedy.
“Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time,” a spokeswoman for Gillard said.
Greig and Christian apologised after an uproar in Britain over the hoax but the station initially milked the publicity as the “biggest royal prank ever”.
It has now removed the link to the hoax from its website and the presenters’ Twitter accounts have been suspended.
The radio station has been in the public eye in the past, notably in 2009 when two other presenters ran a segment in which a 14-year-old girl was given a lie detector test in which she revealed she had been raped.