London - A nurse at the hospital which treated Prince William's pregnant wife Catherine was found dead on Friday, days after being duped by a hoax call from an Australian radio station, the hospital said.
The private King Edward VII hospital in central London named the nurse as Jacintha Saldanha, who had worked there for four years, and said it had learned of her “tragic death” with “very deep sadness”.
The hospital did not comment on media reports that she had committed suicide, while police said they were treating the death, which happened at a property nearby, as unexplained.
The royal couple said they were “deeply saddened” to learn of Saldanha's death, saying staff had looked after them “wonderfully well” during the three nights that Kate spent in hospital being treated for severe morning sickness.
A hospital spokesman said Saldanha had accepted the hoax call from two Australian radio presenters 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 hoax caused a global media storm, and the hospital's chief executive John Lofthouse said it had been “supporting her (Saldanha) through this difficult time”.
He said the hospital, which has been a favourite with royals for years, had lost an “excellent” nurse.
“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies at this time are with her family and friends. Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much loved and valued colleague,” he added.
In what it billed as the “biggest royal prank ever”, a presenter from Sydney's 2Day FM station called the hospital on Monday pretending to be the queen and asked to speak to the former Kate Middleton.
Saldanha said “Oh yes, just hold on, Ma'am”, before putting her through to another nurse who revealed that Kate “hasn't had any retching with me since I've been on duty and she has been sleeping on and off”.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “Police were called at 9:25 am (0925 GMT) this morning to reports of a woman unconscious at an address in Weymouth Street, W1.
“London Ambulance Service attended and a woman was pronounced dead at the scene. Inquiries continue to establish the circumstances of the incident. The death is being treated as unexplained.”
A source in the emergency services told AFP that while the death was being treated as unexplained it was not thought to be suspicious.
“The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jacintha Saldanha,” said a spokesman for William and Kate's office, St James' Palace.
“Their Royal Highnesses were looked after so wonderfully well at all times by everybody at King Edward VII Hospital, and their thoughts and prayers are with Jacintha Saldanha's family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time.”
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, described Saldanha's death as “tragic news”.
“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,” he said.
Radio presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian apologised earlier this week for the call, even as the station was milking the publicity for it.
“We were very surprised that our call was put through. We thought we'd be hung up on as soon as they heard our terrible accents,” they said in a statement.
“We're very sorry if we've caused any issues and we're glad to hear that Kate is doing well.”
The presenters insisted it was lighthearted and even Prince Charles joked about the incident on Thursday, saying to reporters who were asking him about Kate's condition: “How do you know I'm not a radio station?”
Kate was admitted to hospital on Monday with acute morning sickness and left on Thursday, saying she was feeling much better.
Her admission to hospital was the first the world knew of her pregnancy. It will be the couple's first child and will be third in line to the British throne after Charles and William. - AFP