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LONDON--It started out as a joke, but ended in tragedy.
The sudden death of a nurse who unwittingly accepted a prank call to a London hospital about Prince William's pregnant wife, Kate, has shocked Britain and Australia, and sparked an angry backlash Saturday from some who argue the DJs who carried out the hoax should be held responsible.
At first, the call by two irreverent Australian DJs posing as royals was picked up by news outlets around the world as an amusing anecdote about the royal pregnancy. Some complained about the invasion of privacy, the hospital was embarrassed, and the radio presenters sheepishly apologized.
But the prank took a dark twist Friday with the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old mother of two, three days after she took the hoax call. Police have not yet determined Saldanha's cause of death, but people from London to Sydney have been making the assumption that she died because of stress from the call.
King Edward VII's Hospital, where the former Kate Middleton was being treated for acute morning sickness this week, wrote a strongly worded letter to the 2DayFM radio station's parent company Southern Cross Austereo, condemning the "truly appalling" hoax and urging it to take steps to ensure such an incident would never happen again.
"The immediate consequence of these premeditated and ill-considered actions was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses who were simply doing their job tending to their patients," the letter read.
The hospital did not comment when asked whether it believed the prank call had directly caused Saldanha's death, only saying that the protest letter spoke for itself.
DJs Mel Grieg and Michael Christian apologized for the prank on Tuesday. Rhys Holleran, CEO of Southern Cross Austereo, said the pair have been offered counseling and were taken off the air indefinitely.