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India-born nurse's royal hoax inquest opens in UK

An inquest into the death of India-born nurse Jacintha Saldanha, found hanged after she took a hoax call at a hospital here about Kate Middleton's first pregnancy, opened on Thursday after being delayed by almost a year.

world Updated: Sep 11, 2014 21:14 IST

An inquest into the death of India-born nurse Jacintha Saldanha, found hanged after she took a hoax call at a hospital here about Kate Middleton's first pregnancy, opened on Thursday after being delayed by almost a year.

The 46-year-old was found in the nurse's quarters of the King Edward VII hospital in London days after the prank phone call from two Australian radio presenters posing as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles.

Saldanha had put the call through to the ward where the Duchess of Cambridge, pregnant with Prince George, was staying and another nurse there had revealed confidential medical details.

Westminster Coroners' Court is sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London for the inquest, which is expected to last two days.

"It has been a long road for the family and I deeply admire the patience, humility and dignity they have shown throughout this traumatic time. It is right that they finally gain closure," said senior Indian-origin Labour MP Keith Vaz, who is acting as the family's spokesperson.

The inquest, which has been delayed by almost a year, comes soon after the announcement that Kate is pregnant again and suffering acute morning sickness just as on December 4, 2012, when Saldanha took the prank call.

She was found dead on December 7.

"Jacintha's family were delighted to hear the news...that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting her second child and want to pass on their heartfelt congratulations to the couple," Vaz said on behalf of Jacintha's husband Benedict Barboza and children Junal and Lisha Saldanha.

At the first day of the hearing it emerged that the four further calls were logged from the Australian radio station to the hospital.

The hospital's barrister said the other calls were made shortly after the hoax but their content was unknown.

Fiona Barton, representing the hospital, told the inquest: "If she [Jacintha Saldanha] answered any of these calls, and there were four of them, then it can only have added to the stress she was under when she realised this was a prank call by a radio station.

It is understood that nine witnesses will give evidence during the inquest and while the two Australian DJs -- Michael Christian and Mel Greig -- will not be giving evidence, the Austereo Radio Network has submitted evidence to the inquest.

Greig has volunteered to give evidence, on or off the stand.

"We do not know if the calls were in fact answered. If they were answered by Jacintha Saldanha there is an issue as to what was said as that could have further confounded the stress she felt and therefore had an impact on her death sometime after," Barton said.

She said that if the calls were made in an attempt to obtain consent from the hospital to broadcast the prank then they "would have been taped".

No follow-up calls were made during working hours, she said.

Maya Sikand, representing Australia's Southern Cross Media Group, accepted that the station broadcast the prank call without consent.

At a preliminary hearing, a senior police officer had said there were no suspicious circumstances.

The hearing was told there were injuries to Saldanha's wrist, and two notes were found among her possessions.

"I made a commitment to the Saldanha family that I would answer any questions they have, on or off the stand, I'm here to uphold that promise," she tweeted before the hearing.

Other witnesses would include the colleague and security officer who found Saldanha's body as well as Former King Edward VII hospital chief executive John Lofthouse.

At an earlier hearing the coroner, Fiona Wilcox, said the nurse's state of mind was a "very important issue".

Her family are keen to establish whether or not she was suitably trained to deal with the difficulties she faced.

Their barrister told the coroner last year that they wouldn't be focusing on the care and the counselling she received after putting the DJs through to a colleague on the ward.

At the time of her death, Saldanha was described as an "outstanding" nurse whose passing would leave "an unfillable void" in the lives of her family.

In February last year, the UK's Crown Prosecution Service said it would not bring charges against the DJs, Michael Christian and Mel Greig, saying there was no evidence to support a manslaughter case.

First Published: Sep 11, 2014 21:10 IST