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The death of a nurse who answered a hoax call at the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was treated was a “tragic event”, the radio station which carried out the prank has said.

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Jacintha Saldanha was pronounced dead yesterday morning at an address near the King Edward VII’s Hospital in central London, where the pregnant Duchess had been treated for a severe form of morning sickness.

She apparently took her own life.

The nurse, reportedly a mother of two, was the victim of two DJs from the Sydney-based station 2Day FM, who impersonated the Queen and the Prince of Wales.

She answered their call and, believing they were members of the Royal Family, put them through to another nurse who described Kate’s condition in detail.

In a statement last night, Ms Saldanha’s family said they were “deeply saddened” by the death and asked for privacy.

They said: “We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha. We would ask that the media respect our privacy at this difficult time.”

The two presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, apologised for their actions, as did their radio station. They have now been taken off the air and the station has been inundated with complaints.

But Rhys Holleran, chief executive of 2Day FM’s parent company Southern Cross Austereo, stood by the two DJs.

At a news conference in Melbourne he said: “This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen and we’re deeply saddened by it.

“I spoke to both presenters early this morning and it’s fair to say they’re completely shattered.”

Mr Holleran said the pair had been offered counselling, adding: “These people aren’t machines, they’re human beings. We’re all affected by this.”

He would not say who came up with the idea for the call, only that “these things are often done collaboratively.”

He said he was confident the station hadn’t broken any laws, noting that prank calls in radio have been happening “for decades.”

“They’re not just part of one radio station or one network or one country - they’re done worldwide,” he said.

In the wake of the tragedy Southern Cross Austereo said that, by mutual consent, the hosts would not be returning to their show until further notice.

The news of Ms Saldanha’s death has led the headlines in the Australian media, with calls for the DJs to be sacked.

It was reported the advertisers are already deserting the radio station, including supermarket giant Coles and telecommunications company Telstra.

There has been an angry backlash from people in Australia, and almost 14,000 people have left comments on the station’s Facebook page.

Many called for the pair to be sacked permanently, and others said they had “blood on their hands”, while some even called for charges to be brought.

The two presenters remarked during their show how their efforts were the “easiest prank call ever made”, as they put on mock British accents they later described as “terrible”.

The prank call was pre-recorded and vetted by lawyers before being broadcast to listeners in Sydney.

In their initial apology the two presenters said: “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.

“We’re very sorry if we’ve caused any issues and we’re glad to hear that Kate is doing well.”

A flood of complaints has been made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates radio broadcasting.

Chairman Chris Chapman said in a statement: “These events are a tragedy for all involved and I pass on my heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased nurse in London.

“The ACMA does not propose to make any comments at this stage, but will be engaging with the licensee, Today FM Sydney, around the facts and issues surrounding the prank call.”

The tragedy has even reached Australia’s political class.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard called Ms Saldanha’s death a terrible tragedy, saying: “Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time.”

But the premier of New South Wales Barry O’Farrell defended the two presenters, World News Australia reported, and said the DJs must be feeling “terrible”.

He said: “I don’t imagine in any way that those who were engaged in the typical FM radio stunt would have thought it would lead to this.

“I think there are some people today who are suffering, not just the family of the nurse but those who in some way were involved with what appears to be the trigger for this tragedy.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge last night sent their condolences to Ms Saldanha’s family.

In a statement St James’s Palace said: “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jacintha Saldanha.

“Their Royal Highnesses were looked after so wonderfully well at all times by everybody at King Edward VII’s Hospital, and their thoughts and prayers are with Jacintha Saldanha’s family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time.”

The spokesman stressed that they had not complained to the hospital about the hoax call, saying: “On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times.”

Scotland Yard said Ms Saldanha’s death was not being treated as suspicious.

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