Two Australian radio presenters who made a hoax call to the hospital treating the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge have been taken off the air; the nurse whom they duped in the prank call has been found dead.
News of the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha has prompted a furious outpouring against the 2Day FM radio station and the two presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who are said to be "deeply shocked" by the turn of events.
"It's fair to say they are completely shattered," Rhys Holleran, chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo which owns 2Day FM, said of the pair.
Holleran said the station and the hosts had decided that their show will not return "until further notice out of respect of what can only be described as a tragedy".
The radio station's Facebook page has been bombarded with thousands of comments about the death, many attacking the presenters and calling for them to be fired. At least one major company has withdrawn its advertising.
"It is with very deep sadness that we confirm the tragic death of a member of our nursing staff, Jacintha S.," the King Edward VII hospital said in a statement issued on behalf of the hospital's chief executive, John Lofthouse.
"We can confirm that Jacintha was recently the victim of a hoax call to the hospital. The hospital had been supporting her," the statement said.
In a statement released by St. James' Palace, the duchess and her husband, Prince William, said they were "deeply saddened to learn of the death."
"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 S.'s family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time."
In an effort aimed at pre-empting any blame being directed at the royal palace, the statement added, "at no point did the palace complain to the hospital about the incident. On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times."
Scotland Yard said they were treating the death as unexplained. "Inquiries are continuing to establish the circumstances of the incident. The death is not being treated as suspicious at this stage," a spokesperson for the police force said.
The woman was pronounced dead at the scene by ambulance staff.
The female nurse had been the victim of a prank call made by Australian radio presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian from the 2DayFM station. The pair pretended to be Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, who were trying to elicit information about the well-being of the duchess, who was being treated at the hospital for severe morning sickness at the time.
Catherine, wife of second-in-line to the British throne, Prince William, was discharged from the hospital on Thursday in the early stages of her pregnancy.
jlw, hc/bk (dpa, Reuters, AFP, dapd)