SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian radio hosts who made a prank call to a London hospital treating Prince William’s wife Kate tearfully told of their heartbreak Monday at hearing that a nurse had been found dead.
Mel Greig and Michael Christian from Sydney station 2Day FM have been in hiding and undergoing counselling since their hoax sparked global outrage following the apparent suicide of Jacintha Saldanha.
In interviews on Australian television, the pair broke their silence following Saldanha’s death last week in London, as 2Day FM’s owner said it was cancelling their show and stopping all hoax calls by its broadcasters.
An emotional Greig said she was devastated on hearing the Indian-born nurse had died.
“Unfortunately I remember that moment very well because I haven’t stopped thinking about it since it happened,” she told Australia’s Seven Network.
“And I remember my first question was, was she a mother?”
In a separate interview with the Nine Network, Greig added: “It came into my head that I just wanted to reach out to them (the family), give them a big hug and say sorry. I hope they’re okay, I really do.”
The call, with Greig and Christian posing as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, was taken by mother-of-two Saldanha, 46, at London’s King Edward VII Hospital.
With no receptionist on duty in the early morning, she put them through to a colleague who divulged details of the pregnant Kate’s recovery from severe morning sickness.
Saldanha was subsequently found dead, although British police have refused to confirm whether it was suicide pending an inquest.
Christian said he too was devastated.
“Shattered, gutted, heartbroken and obviously you know... our deepest sympathies are with the family and the friends,” he told Nine.
He added that it was supposed to be “just a simple, harmless, fun call”.
“Prank calls are made every day ... no-one could have imagined this to happen,” he said.
“We just hope that her family and friends are as good as they can be and that they are getting the love and support they deserve.”
The death sparked an outpouring of fury against the radio station and the presenters, although the broadcaster Monday said no-one could have foreseen the tragic consequences of what the hospital says was an “appalling” stunt.
Rhys Holleran, chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo, which owns 2Day FM, said the station called the hospital five times to discuss what it had recorded before going to air.
He said he was satisfied that the appropriate checks were conducted before the pre-recorded segment was broadcast.
“It is absolutely true to say that we actually did attempt to contact those people on multiple occasions,” Holleran told Fairfax radio.
“We attempted to contact them on no less than five occasions,” he added. “We wanted to speak to them about it.”
Holleran did not say whether the broadcaster received any response. The stunt was vetted by lawyers before being aired in Sydney last week, according to the station.
In a statement to the stock exchange, Southern Cross, which has media interests throughout Australia, said that it had decided to halt all prank calls by its broadcasters.
It also axed the show Greig and Christian presented, Hot 30, and suspended all 2Day FM advertising until further notice.
The case has triggered demands for tougher regulation of the electronic media although Australia’s press regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, has not commented on whether the station broke any rules.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the ACMA was considering whether to initiate an inquiry beyond its usual process of giving broadcasters 60 days to respond to complaints.
Sections of the British press have savagely condemned the hoax and some people online say the presenters have blood on their hands. But Australian media have hit back at “hysterical finger-pointing”.