x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

British royal family hoax-call death shocks relatives in India

Family of India's Jacintha Saldaha, the nurse believed to have killed herself in the UK after the royal family hoax call, tell of their devastation.

Flowers and a personal message of condolence outside the King Edward VII hospital apartments in memory Jacintha Saldanha.
Flowers and a personal message of condolence outside the King Edward VII hospital apartments in memory Jacintha Saldanha.

The news arrived yesterday, here in Shirva, Jacintha Saldanha's home village.

The married mother of two was dead at 46, apparently of her own hand. She was a duty nurse at a private hospital named for a king in London. At 5.30am on Tuesday, because no receptionist was working, Saldanha answered politely what she believed was a call from a queen to a duchess, then forwarded the call to the ward where the Dutchess of Cambridge was being treated for hyperemesis gravidarum which is an uncommon and dangerous form of morning sickness. The call was from Australia, not Buckingham Palace, and a prank.

What wasn't was the news that arrived in the southern Indian state of Karnataka yesterday.

Saldanha's mother-in-law, Carmine was unaware of the hoax phone call or her daughter-in-law's death  and was shocked to hear the news from reporters who descended on the family's village, Melvin Aranha, a family friend said.

"Benedict used to call every day but he nor Jacintha said anything about what had happened. Everything seemed normal," Carmine said about her son.

Cerolin Desouza, Saldanha's sister-in-law, said the family was devastated and asked the Indian government "to bring the body back".

"I beg the Indian government to do something. My brother is alone with his children now," she said, according to ANI news agency.

Saldanha's children are 16 and 14. She has been married to Benedict Barboza, 49, since 1993. The family moved to the United Kingdom about 10 years ago. Saldanha had been a nurse at King Edward VII hospital for more than four years. Her husband is a hospital accountant.

Yesterday, it was reported that the two Syndney disc jockeys from 2DayFM, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who made the phone call had taken a leave of absence.

News of the death broke in the middle of the night in Australia and Australians woke to hear about it. It was the top story on the national broadcaster, the ABC. It reported there had been an outpouring of anger in the UK and said thousands of people had demanded that the DJs be fired.

"We are very angry and shocked at the news," said Mr Aranha. "All the relatives are now gathering to understand what happened and what to do next," he said.

The family lived in Bristol, but Saldanha would stay at nursing quarters provided by the hospital, returning home on her days off. The emergency services were called and two ambulances were despatched to the central London residence Friday evening. But paramedics were unable to revive Saldhana and she was pronounced dead at the scene. The exact cause of death was not announced. Police said her death was being treated as "unexplained", though they said they didn't find anything suspicious. A coroner will make a determination on the cause next week. Police have made no connection between Saldanha's death and the prank call.

Flowers were left outside the hospital's nurses' building. Attached to the red, white and blue flowers, a note read: "Dear Jacintha, our thoughts are with you and your family. From all your fellow nurses, we bless your soul. God bless."

Former neighbour Marianne Homes, 49, said she'd referred to Saldanha as "the doctor" because she was always very smartly dressed. She was also known for her smile. Acquaintances recalled her generous invitations to pop in and share a curry and get to know her family.

A nursing instructor, Jeff Sellick, recalled his former student as quiet and sometimes needing a confidence boost.

"I imagine it would have played very heavy on her mind with what's happened," he said.

"She was a very, very nice person who wouldn't say boo to a goose. She was always there, always punctual, always listened. I got the impression she was a quiet person."

 

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse