Who is to blame for Jacintha Saldanha’s death?

A witch-hunt is not the right reaction to the royal prank tragedy

The word tragedy is overused but is surely appropriate for the death of Jacintha Saldanha. But for the last 24 hours the regular media and the twitterverse have been falling over each other to blame the two radio presenters whose prank call seems to have started a chain of events leading to Saldanha’s death (possibly by suicide). The King Edward Hospital, in writing to the radio station, is also pointing fingers of blame. For in this world of black and white surely it’s obvious that there must be blame and, according to Mail Online‘s coverage, it cannot be with the media who have utterly milked this story. It must lie with DJs who pull silly faces and wear daft costumes in the pursuit of low entertainment.

I’m not so sure that it’s as simple as that. We know next to nothing about the personal circumstances of Jacintha Saldanha. The Samaritans remind us that

suicide is never the result of a single factor or event and is likely to have several inter-related causes.

That does not necessarily let anyone off the hook. One commentator on the Slate site points out that ‘you must take your victims as you find them’. Under that principle, Saldanha’s reaction may not be what the two DJs intended, but they are responsible for it anway. There is a lot of logic in that position. But remember that we are talking about a chain of events. The DJs are not the only participants. As I understand it, Saldanha did not actually give away details of the health of the Duchess of Cambridge. She did patch the call through to the Duchess’s ward, at which point a different nurse spilled the beans. Which raises questions for the hospital’s management. Given that the health of the Duchess is, it appears, of much interest to the world’s media (feeding the public’s hypocritical supposed need for news on celebrities) surely any simple risk management procedure would have taken into account that people would be trying to find out confidential information. Surely anyone handling telephones at the hospital had received detailed training about what to do if someone claimed to be acting on behalf of the royals? It is the role of management to identify risks and mitigate against them. We also don’t know how the management reacted to Saldanha’s mistake, and how they treated her following the episode.

I don’t find prank calls particuarly funny. That doesn’t make the DJs murderers. Everyone involved: the media, the radio station, the hospital management, need to look at what they have done. But we cannot know at this point what was in Jacintha Saldanha’s mind at the time she took her life (if indeed she did do so). It’s time for the witch-hunt to be suspended.


  1. Good post, Rich.

    It’s all nonsense, this story. The latest: apparently the Met Police might have to travel to Australia to interview the DJs.

    I want to make another remark here about the Duke of Edinburgh, but given Alastair MacAlpine’s pursuit of Sally Bercow (really! at HIS age!) and others, I feel it prudent to desist. God Save The Queen.

  2. I’m pretty sure that the King Edward Hospital is private. The weird white dots are a Christmas present from WordPress, I think – they are meant to be snow and are applied automatically during the festive season. Nice and appropriate for this particular thread…

  3. “We also don’t know how the management reacted to Saldanha’s mistake, and how they treated her following the episode.” < This

    more likely that NHS managers bullied her to death… Rich there are moving white dots on this page, they are really unsettling… or I'm having weird eye problems

  4. All of that’s true – and I include the radio station as a whole in the group of those who need to think about the consequences of their actions. But I think that there’s a huge amount of hypocrisy from other news outlets which are criticising the station, when some of them used the excuse of the stunt being ‘news’ to also broadcast it.

  5. No comment on the management of the radio station? The call was pre recorded. They had the chance to think about risk management, legality of impersonating a relative to gain confidential medical information, or to actualky gain permission from Jacintha prior to public broadcast but didn’t, and they approved the airing of the prank call.

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