Villagers pack prank-call nurse's burial

By Andrew Buncombe

Family of woman at centre of hoax call yet to decide on action against hospital, radio station.

Husband Benedict Barboza, centre, holds his son Junal and daughter Lisha during the burial of Jacintha Saldanha. Photo / AP
Husband Benedict Barboza, centre, holds his son Junal and daughter Lisha during the burial of Jacintha Saldanha. Photo / AP

First came a man bearing a simple wooden cross, then a brass band playing dirges. A little way behind them, an ambulance followed carrying the coffin of Jacintha Saldanha as it made one last journey.

The 46-year-old nurse was buried in a graveyard in the village of Shirva, lowered into the red earth while her husband, Benedict Barboza, and two children stood hugging each other for support.

Purple and white flowers were thrown on the coffin and hundreds of people who had pressed together around the graveside, surrounded by coconut trees, sang hymns and recited prayers.

Afterwards, asked whether he had thought about how he and his children might try to rebuild their lives when they returned to Britain, Barboza said he couldn't yet think of that. "I am still at the graveside," he replied.

Barboza, with his teenage children Junal and Lisha, had accompanied Saldanha's coffin as it was flown from London to Mumbai, and then to the coastal town of Mangalore in the state of Karnataka.

They had come to bury the wife and mother and also to continue to press for answers, for anything that could further throw light on the circumstances surrounding her death.

Saldanha, who grew up and completed her nursing training in Mangalore, took her life after receiving a now-notorious call at London's King Edward VII hospital, where she worked, from two Australian DJs pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles.

Believing the call to be genuine, she transferred it to another nurse who gave information on the condition of the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge, who was being treated for severe morning sickness. Two days later, she was found hanging in her room in the nurses' accommodation complex.

During a memorial service in the Our Lady of Health Church in Shirva, more than 1000 people packed in to hear prayers, sing hymns and listen to brief eulogies about the woman who died in an "unfortunate incident".

Earlier, hundreds of villagers had made their way along a twisting track to the Barboza family home to pay their respects to Saldanha, her face visible through a glass panel in the casket. The room was hung with flowers and candles were lit.

Outside, propped against the wall of the house, was the lid of the coffin. It bore a plaque that read: "Royal Nurse Jacintha Saldanha. RIP." After the funeral, to which Saldanha's mother, Carmine, was taken in a wheelchair, Barboza read a statement and answered questions.

They said they hadn't yet decided whether to pursue legal action against the King Edward VII hospital where Saldanha had worked for more than four years, splitting her time between the hospital and the family home in Bristol.

Neither did they know whether they would sue the Australian DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian, or their radio station, 2DayFM. The DJs have apologised for the prank call in a series of interviews on Australian television, saying they hadn't expected their call to be put through. But the family say they have not received any apology from them. The show was taken off the air and the DJs have been suspended, going into hiding after death threats.

"The incident is being investigated and they have assured us a full and fair investigation," said a family friend, Steven Almeida, describing the Scotland Yard inquiry that is under way.

Barboza looked overcome with grief and bewilderment. He apologised for being unable to provide any more answers and said: "I am exhausted".

Independent

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