Early end for Eastenders baby plot after complaints deluge

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The Independent Culture

EastEnders bosses are to bring the controversial baby death plot - which has prompted almost 6,000 complaints from viewers - to an early end.

The storyline, in which Ronnie Branning loses her baby son to cot death on New Year's Eve before swapping him with Kat Moon's live newborn, has proved to be one of the most complained-about stories in the show's history.

But now the plot will be resolved in "months", according to the BBC. It had originally been planned to run for considerably longer.

The high-profile storyline is 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.

Actress Samantha Womack is to leave the show later this year, although her agent insisted yesterday that the decision was nothing to do with the storyline. He said she was bowing out of the soap as her contract reached a "natural end".

Agent Michael Wiggs said: "There's no truth whatsoever in any suggestion that Sam is 'quitting' EastEnders over the current storyline.

"Sam's contract comes to a natural end later this year and she will be taking a break from the show.

As well as viewers, the plot twist has drawn some high-profile critics.

Mumsnet website founder Justine Roberts has written to BBC Director-General Mark Thompson to oppose the "baby swap" aspect of the story in particular.

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."

Ms Roberts said the website's members were "frustrated" that the BBC had "squandered" the potential to raise awareness of sudden infant death syndrome (Sids) and its effect on bereaved families.

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

She said: "I find it amazing that a cot death isn't awful enough for any drama. That they've had to actually make the cot death mother go slightly mad and then do a baby swap is, frankly, offensive."

The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID), which worked with EastEnders ahead of the story, has also spoken out about the storyline, stressing that its involvement "was limited to advice on Sids risk factors, bereavement and the involvement of health professionals and the police".

The charity added in a statement: "FSID had no involvement in the planning or adoption of the specific 'baby-swap' plotline. The behaviour and actions of Ronnie Mitchell are in no way 'endorsed' by FSID as a typical, or even likely, reaction of a bereaved parent."

The BBC has responded to the floods of complaints, insisting the BBC1 show did not intend to "cause distress or upset".

Show bosses added that viewers would "see the situation resolve itself over the coming months".