Jacintha Saldanha, 46, took the now infamous prank call from two Australian DJs impersonating the Queen and Prince Charles.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
There was just the one bunch of flowers. They were gerberas, red, white and blue, pinned to the door of the nurses’ accommodation where Jacintha Saldanha’s life ended last Friday morning in a suspected suicide. They carried a simple message from her colleagues. “Bless you,” the message said.
The lonely tribute seemed out of place in one of London’s most vibrant areas. Saldanha’s quarters are nestled among million-pound mews houses in one of London’s most expensive enclaves, a stone’s throw from Marylebone High Street, where on Saturday families carried Christmas trees and shoppers sought festive bargains in the brilliant winter sunshine. It is the sort of place where someone could easily feel alone in a crowd.
Just around the corner from the five-storey block of nurses’ flats is the King Edward VII hospital where last week the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for severe morning sickness and Saldanha, 46, took the now infamous prank call from two Australian DJs impersonating the Queen and Prince Charles.
Barriers were erected outside the hospital on Thursday to allow the press to photograph a smiling Duchess leaving hospital. By Saturday, they had assumed a more sombre utility.
Saldanha’s fellow nurses came and went with stern, silent faces. In the post-Leveson era, journalists waiting outside the hospital were restrained in their questioning. The presence nearby of a handful of television vans indicated that the sad story of one woman’s lonely death had assumed global proportions and was being followed closely in the US, Australia and France.
A journalist with an Indian TV station explained it was going to be “massive” back in Karnataka, the state in India where Saldanha, a mother of two teenage children, was born and where many of her family still live.
Gradually a picture is emerging of a woman who was, in the words of Lord Glenarthur, chairman of the hospital, “a first-class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients”. She lived with her husband Benedict Barboza, 49, and their children in Bristol, returning to the West Country when she was not working.
“I am devastated with the tragic loss of my beloved wife Jacintha in tragic circumstances. She will be laid to rest in Shirva (the town where she was born),” Barboza wrote on Facebook.
Saldanha, often known as Jess, was a committed Christian who, with her husband, regularly emailed her family back in India offering them blessings at important times. Following the death of a relative, they write: “May Almighty grant Eternal Peace to the departed soul, strength and courage to all family members to bear this heavy loss.”
On Saturday, her Indian relatives described her as “beautiful” and “good-natured”, a wife who “looked great” with her husband.
In an online testimonial for her driving instructor in Bristol, Saldanha described herself as “a very nervous person”. But neighbours painted a picture of a contented woman who was always happy to talk.
One neighbour, Marianne Homes, 49, said: “I’ve always known her as ‘the doctor’ – she was always very smartly dressed. She was a lovely woman; every time I saw her she would talk to me.”
Another neighbour said: “We used to joke with her that she was a nurse for the Queen, she was just so nice.”
The tragedy has triggered a fresh debate about the media and privacy. The Australian regulator said it had been inundated with complaints about the prank call made by the two DJs, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who work for the radio station 2Day FM.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said it was discussing the matter with the station, which has said the two presenters have been left “shattered” by events. The pair have now been taken off air and offered counselling, while the station’s owner has been forced to pull adverts after panic from advertisers. The telephone giant, Telstra, yesterday joined a list of companies removing their advertising from 2Day FM.
In a letter to 2Day FM’s parent company, Glenarthur attacked its decision to broadcast the prank call, which Saldanha answered and then transferred to a colleague. “The immediate consequence of these premeditated and ill-considered actions was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses who were simply doing their job tending to their patients,” Glenarthur wrote, adding that “the longer-term consequence has been reported around the world and is, frankly, tragic beyond words.”
Nursing bodies also condemned the prank, the likes of which have been a regular feature on Australian radio for decades. “It is deeply saddening that a simple human error due to a cruel hoax could lead to the death of a dedicated and caring member of the nursing profession,” said the head of the Royal College of Nursing, Dr Peter Carter.
The New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association confirmed it had written to Jeremy Simpson, general manager of 2Day FM, before Saldanha died, urging him “to consider the personal toll such a prank could exact from a professional caregiver”. A handful of MPs, including Labour’s Tom Watson and the Tories’ Nadine Dorries, took to Twitter to suggest that press interest in tracing the hoaxed nurses could have placed Saldanha under pressure and made her vulnerable. “How many paps and journalists were hanging round that poor nurse’s house? How many made her feel sick and scared?” Dorries asked. There is no evidence that Saldanha’s identity was known to journalists.
Catherine Johnstone, chief executive of Samaritans, said suicide was complex and urged people to think before commenting on Saldanha’s death. “Although a catalyst may appear to be obvious, suicide is never the result of a single factor or event and is likely to have several inter-related causes,” Johnstone said.
“Each suicide is a tragedy. Sometimes people get to a point where they feel they can’t cope, where it all gets too much to handle. It’s worse if people feel they are alone and they can’t talk to anyone about what’s weighing on them.”
• For confidential support call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90
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