Royal hoax DJs taken off air


PRANKSTERS: Australia’s 2Day radio station hosts Mel Greig, left, and Michael Christian. Pic: Reuters

Sydney: Two Australian radio presenters who made a hoax call to the hospital treating Prince William's pregnant wife Catherine were taken off the air yesterday after the nurse who took the call was found dead in a suspected suicide.

Jacintha Saldanha answered the phone when presenters from Sydney's 2Day FM called 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.

Saldanha was found dead on Friday, with police saying her death was not being treated as suspicious. Her employers, London's private King Edward VII hospital, refused to comment on media reports that she had taken her own life.

News of the death prompted a furious outpouring against the radio station and the two presenters involved, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who are said to be "deeply shocked" by the turn of events.

"It's fair to say they are completely shattered," Rhys Holleran, chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo which owns 2Day FM, said of the pair who had only been presenting together for a couple of weeks.

Tragedy
Holleran said the station and the hosts had decided that their show will not return "until further notice out of respect of what can only be described as a tragedy".

He also told reporters in Melbourne the station did not believe it had broken the law with the prank call, the Australian Associated Press news agency reported.

"We're very confident that we haven't done anything illegal," he was cited as saying. "What happened was incredibly tragic and we're deeply saddened and we're incredibly affected by that."

The radio station's Facebook page has been bombarded with thousands of comments on the death, many attacking the presenters and calling for them to be sacked while at least one major company has withdrawn its advertising.

"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.

Police said they had been called to an address close to the hospital on Friday morning following reports that a woman was unconscious, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

"The death is being treated as unexplained," a statement said, while a spokesman said results of a post-mortem were due this weekend.

The family of the nurse, who reportedly had two children, appealed for privacy while they came to terms with her death.

"We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha," they said in
a statement.

More than 13,650 comments had hit the 2Day FM page by Saturday afternoon, some saying Greig and Christian had blood on their hands and calling angrily for them to be dismissed.

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.

Prince William and Kate have said they were "deeply saddened" by Saldanha's death, while Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard said it was a "terrible tragedy". The hoax caused a global media storm.

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