Eastenders actress 'leaves over baby-swap plot'

EastEnders actress Samantha Womack, whose character has been involved in the soap's controversial baby swap plot, is to leave the show, the BBC said today.

Womack plays Ronnie Branning, who lost baby son James to cot death on New Year's Eve then swapped him for Kat Moon's (Jessie Wallace) live newborn, Tommy - generating thousands of viewer complaints in the process.

Show chiefs confirmed mother-of-two Womack would be leaving the BBC1 soap in several months, but downplayed reports that her departure was prompted by the harrowing storyline.

According to The Sun, the 38-year-old actress brought filming to a halt during the scenes as she was so upset, and also "made it clear" to bosses that she thought the plot was wrong.

An EastEnders spokesman said: "The current storyline allows an exit for Ronnie Branning.

"Samantha Womack has been a major part of the show's success in recent years and she will continue to work with us until her departure later this year."

Womack - formerly known as Samantha Janus before her marriage to actor husband Mark Womack - will reportedly leave the show in May.

Around 3,500 viewers have voiced concerns to the BBC about the New Year episodes.

Only one other EastEnders story has prompted more complaints, when Danielle Jones was killed in a car crash moments after Ronnie found out the teenager was her daughter.

More than 7,000 viewers contacted the BBC about that episode, which was broadcast in April 2009.

Executive producer Bryan Kirkwood said about the baby swap plot: "We appreciate this is a challenging storyline and have taken care to ensure viewers were aware of the content in advance of transmission.

"We also provided actionline numbers at the end of each show, offering advice and support to those affected by the issues."

Last Monday's episode, in which Ronnie struggled to cope with the baby and Kat did not recognise the dead child as her own, was seen by 10.6 million viewers.