Womack exit 'not linked to plot'
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: "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. This has been agreed with the producers for several months.
"Sam has had an incredibly happy and fulfilling time on EastEnders over the last few years. She has huge respect for the show, writers and producers and has thoroughly enjoyed playing such a complex role that has been involved in so many tough and challenging storylines."
BBC drama controller John Yorke said Womack was "a much-loved member of the cast". He said: "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 has 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. 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."
Show bosses added viewers would "see the situation resolve itself over the coming months". EastEnders executive producer Bryan Kirkwood said: "We appreciate this is a challenging storyline ... We also provided actionline numbers at the end of each show, offering advice and support to those affected by the issues."