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Australian DJs break silence about royal prank

1:59 PM, Dec 10, 2012   |    comments
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Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wife of Prince WiIliam, leaves the King Edward VII hospital in central London, on December 6, 2012. (LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

CANBERRA, Australia -- Two Australian radio announcers who made a prank call to a British hospital treating Prince William's pregnant wife Kate broke a three-day silence Monday to speak of their distress over the death of the nurse who took their call.

The 2DayFM Sydney-based announcers, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, said the tragedy had left them "shattered, gutted, heartbroken."

Greig and fellow presenter and prank mastermind Christian have been in hiding since nurse Jacintha Saldanha's death and the subsequent social media outrage at their prank. Saldanha's is being treated as unexplained while an investigation takes place.

Greig told the "Today Tonight" program on Australia's Channel 7 that her first thought when told of Saldanha's death was for her family.

"Unfortunately I remember that moment very well, because I haven't stopped thinking about it since it happened," she said, amid tears and her voice quavering with emotion. "I remember my first question was 'was she a mother?'."

"I've wanted to just reach out to them and just give them a big hug and say sorry. I hope they're okay, I really do. I hope they get through this," said a black-clad Greig when asked about Saldanha's two children, left grieving her death with their father Ben Barboza.

Details of Kate's condition disclosed

Saldanha, 46, was found dead in staff accommodation near London's King Edward VII hospital on Friday, three days after putting the hoax call through to a colleague who unwittingly disclosed details of Kate's morning sickness to 2DayFM's presenters.

A recording of the call, broadcast repeatedly by the station, rapidly became an internet hit and was reprinted as a transcript in many newspapers.

But news of Saldanha's death sparked the Internet firestorm, with vitriolic comments toward the DJs on Facebook and Twitter.

Christian said his only wish was that Saldanha's grief-stricken family received proper support.

"I hope that they get the love, the support, the care that they need, you know," said Christian, who like Greig struggled to talk about the tragedy.

In a statement, the radio station's parent company, Southern Cross Austero, said it had suspended advertising on 2Day FM until further notice, ended the two DJs' Hot 30 program, suspended prank calls across the company, and begun a comprehensive review of relevant company polices and practices.

"The company does not consider that the broadcast of the segment has breached any relevant law, regulation or code. The company will fully cooperate with any investigations," the statement said.

'Processes in place'

Both Greig, 30, and Christian were relatively new to the station, with Greig joining in March and Christian having been in the job only a few days before the prank call after a career in regional radio.

They said the idea for the call had come from a team meeting before the show. Greig said she did not think their prank would work.

"We thought 100 people before us would've tried it. We thought it was such a silly idea and the accents were terrible and not for a second did we expect to speak to Kate, let alone have a conversation with anyone at the hospital. We wanted to be hung up on," she said.

The DJs said the protocols established by the radio station's parent company were followed before the phone call was made.

"There are processes in place," Christian said.

Christian drew headlines only two weeks before the royal prank call by angering fellow passengers with a harmonica-playing stunt aboard pop star Rihanna's private jet.

Complaints pour in

Southern Cross Austereo has received more than 1,000 complaints from Australians over the actions of the popular presenters.

The station said it had tried to contact hospital staff five times over the recordings.

"It is absolutely true to say that we actually did attempt to contact those people on multiple occasions," said Southern Cross Austereo chief executive Rhys Holleran.

"No one could have reasonably foreseen what has happened. I can only say the prank call is not unusual around the world," he said.

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