Star's exit 'not linked' to baby swap outcry

EastEnders star Samantha Womack has insisted her decision to leave the soap has nothing to do with her controversial cot death storyline.

The actress, who plays bereaved mother Ronnie Branning, is bowing out of the soap as her contract reaches its "natural end".

Almost 6,000 complaints have been logged with the BBC over her character's high-profile storyline, which saw Ronnie lose a baby to cot death on New Year's Eve before swapping him with Kat Moon's live newborn.

It has now become one of the most complained-about EastEnders storylines, second only to the sudden death of Ronnie's daughter Danielle in a car crash in April 2009, which drew more than 7,000 objections from viewers.

Womack's agent Michael Wiggs said: "Sam has had an incredibly happy and fulfilling time on EastEnders over the last few years."

BBC Drama controller John Yorke said Womack was "a much-loved" member of the cast.

"When she leaves at the end of this storyline, she'll be much missed, and the door will be open for her return."

The BBC had yesterday received more than 5,800 complaints from viewers about the contentious plot.

Website Mumsnet has joined in the protest, with founder Justine Roberts writing to director general Mark Thompson to oppose the "baby swap" aspect of the story in particular.

In her letter, she wrote: "Our members are concerned that, as is all too common, a bereaved mother has been portrayed as deranged and unhinged. In fact the reality is very different."

Meanwhile, broadcaster Anne Diamond, who lost a son to cot death, branded the plot "tacky sensationalism".

She said on ITV1's Daybreak: "I think it's crass what they've done."

The BBC has insisted the BBC1 show did not intend to "cause distress or upset".

Programme chiefs acknowledged it was a "particularly emotive storyline" which they said was approached "with great care and attention".