Family of nurse crank called speak publicly for first time

Posted at 12:32 PM, Dec 15, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-15 12:32:18-05

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN

(CNN) — The family of a nurse who apparently hanged herself after taking a prank call regarding Prince William’s pregnant wife Catherine spoke movingly Saturday of their grief at losing the “core of the family” who had surrounded them with love and laughter.

Speaking to reporters outside Westminster Cathedral, where a Mass was held to remember Jacintha Saldanha on Saturday morning, they described the “unfillable void” her tragic death had left in their lives.

It was the first time her husband, Benedict Barboza, and two teenaged children had spoken publicly of their loss since the nurse’s death on 7 December.

“My wife, you were the light of my darkness, who always showed me the way forward,” said Barboza.

“I feel a part of me has been ripped out. Without your beautiful smile and sparkling personality the house is an empty place to live.”

The couple had been together for 19 years with a “strong bond of affection and understanding” that he would cherish forever, he said.

“Your loss is a very painful one and nobody can take that place in my life ever again. I love you and miss you forever,” he said, breaking down in tears as he finished speaking.

The couple’s son, Junal, spoke of his mother as a “kind, generous and well respected woman,” who was the core of the family and had instilled the principles in her children that would guide them through life.

“You worked tirelessly to give us everything that we have today,” he said.

Lisha, his younger sister, said they would miss their mother’s laughter and the loving memories they share.

“We are shattered and there’s an unfillable void in our lives. We love you, Mum. Sleep in peace and please watch over us until we meet again in Heaven. We will always love you and keep you close to our hearts.”

Saldanha’s funeral will be held on Monday in Karnataka, southern India, the family said.

The nurse’s death, three days after she took the hoax call from two Australian DJs who impersonated Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, shocked people around the world.

A memorial fund to benefit her family has been set up by King Edward VII Hospital, where she worked.

Saldanha was found hanging from a wardrobe door at her hospital living quarters on December 7, a coroner’s court heard Thursday. The court was told she left three notes, but the content of them was not disclosed.

The details around the circumstances of Saldanha’s death emerged as an inquest — a proceeding usually held in Britain when a death is sudden or unexplained — was opened. It is due to reconvene in March.

Police are looking at e-mails and telephone records, the inquest heard, and will speak to Saldanha’s friends and co-workers about what could have led to her death.

At this time there are no suspicious circumstances, Detective Chief Inspector James Harman said.

Saldanha’s death triggered wide public anger against the radio station, Sydney-based 2Day FM, and the two DJS who made the hoax call early on December 4.

Believing it was genuine, Saldanha transferred the call to the ward treating Catherine for acute morning sickness, where another nurse gave details of her condition.

Friends in her native India have described her as a devout Catholic who was generous, dedicated and caring toward her patients.

The hospital released a letter late Friday sent by chief executive John Lofthouse to lawmaker Keith Vaz, who has been supporting the Saldanha family.

In it, Lofthouse spells out the guidelines given to staff for dealing with calls when a “high-profile patient” is being cared for — and insists that Saldanha was given full support by the hospital.

“Part of our procedure is to take the name and number of the individual and call them back. This is in order to verify that the call is genuine. We also empower our staff to use their judgement,” he wrote. “On this particular occasion, Jacintha believed that the call was genuine, and she felt it appropriate to put the call through. We stand by her judgement.”

After the hoax call Saldanha was reassured a number of times by senior managers that she was not being blamed for anything, he said, “and there were no disciplinary issues involved, because she had been the victim of a cruel trick.”

Saldanha was also offered further support, including time off, the chance to return to her family home in Bristol or counseling, but declined to take it, he said.

“Jacintha said that she would prefer to continue working. Neither ourselves, her friends or family noticed anything to give cause for concern.”

Lofthouse said he had been in touch with Saldanha’s husband and that the family had now accepted the hospital’s offer of support. The hospital will do all it can for the family “at this desperately sad time,” he added.

The media network that owns the 2Day FM, Southern Cross Austereo, has also said it will donate a minimum of 500,000 Australian dollars (US$524,000) to a fund for the nurse’s family.

Responding to reports of death threats against the DJs involved, Michael Christian and Mel Greig, Southern Cross Austereo said Friday that the safety of its employees was “an absolute priority.”

“We have sensible measures in place, as we always do, to ensure our people are safe. This is now a matter for the police and we trust they will investigate any specific threats that emerge,” a spokesman said.

The DJs made a heartfelt apology in TV interviews in Australia this week, saying they had meant no harm.

CNN’s Susannah Palk and Jack Maddox contributed to this report.