Jacintha Saldanha family's lawyers ask why she was answering hospital phone

Lawyers representing relatives of nurse found dead after prank question whether she should have been acting as receptionist

Lawyers acting for the family of a nurse who was found dead after taking a prank call from two Australian radio DJs targeting the Duchess of Cambridge when she was in hospital have questioned why she was made to answer phones by her employers.

Jacintha Saldanha, 45, was found dead in her nurse's lodgings at the King Edward VII hospital in London in December, three days after putting through the call from the 2Day FM hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who were pretending to be the Queen and the Prince of Wales.

On Tuesday Saldanha's widower, Benedict Barboza, daughter Lisha, 14, and son Junal, 17, attended a pre-inquest hearing at Westminster coroner's court.

During the hearing, the family's legal representative, John Cooper QC, questioned whether under the terms of her employment contract the nurse should have been in effect acting as a receptionist on the day of the telephone prank.

He asked why it was that Saldanha "was placed in a position in a matron office to be receiving calls from outside agencies".

Cooper also questioned whether the owners of the Australian radio station, Southern Cross, had contacted the hospital to request permission to broadcast a recording of the hoax call.

"There may be an issue whether Southern Cross did or did not contact the hospital on a number of, maybe four or five times, prior to the broadcast being made. As far we are aware … no such contact took place," Cooper said.

Speaking for the dead nurse's family outside the coroner's court, the MP Keith Vaz said the hearing marked the beginning of the end of the legal process. However, he said, this did not "take away the terrible grief the family are still suffering".

"These have been dreadful, dreadful weeks and months for them," Vaz said. "They will never, ever come to terms with the death of Jacintha who they loved so much, but they hope this process will begin the healing process."

During the short pre-inquest hearing the coroner, Fiona Wilcox, granted anonymity to a duty nurse who was working in the duchess's maternity ward and is due to testify at the full inquest.

Wilcox accepted that the witness should be shielded from media intrusion after the hospital argued that it was "absolutely necessary … as evidenced by events".

After the hearing the hospital's chief executive, John Lofthouse, paid tribute to Saldanha. "Jacintha was a much-loved colleague and a first-class nursing sister. She is sorely missed by everyone at the hospital," he said. "We once again extend our deepest condolences to her family. We feel it would be inappropriate for the hospital to comment at this time."

The inquest will be held on 2 May at the council house chambers in Marylebone, London.


Shiv Malik

The GuardianTramp

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