Emmerdale producer responds to backlash of Laurel and Jai’s Down’s syndrome storyline

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In the coming weeks, Emmerdale viewers will see Laurel Thomas (Charlotte Bellamy) and her partner Jai (Chris Bisson) learn she is pregnant. The pair are elated but their bubble is soon burst at the first scan when they are told the baby is not developing as it should be. Later on, Laurel will end up having an abortion after discovering her unborn child will have Down’s syndrome. The storyline has caused a huge amount of discussion already, with some not pleased by the upcoming plotline and now, producer Laura Shaw has responded to the criticism.

Jai and Laurel finally seem to be back solid after a rocky patch earlier this year which saw the former slip back into his former patterns of addiction.

The pair will receive some surprising news in episodes to come when Laurel discovers she is pregnant. 

Despite being initially cautious, the couple allows themselves to become excited about blending their families together.

But when they attend a scan, they are told their baby may have a chromosomal disorder and they will decide to have a CVS (chorionic villus sampling) test, which later reveals their unborn baby has Down’s syndrome. 

This will result in Jai and Laurel eventually deciding to have a termination of the pregnancy in some heartbreaking scenes later this year.

Series Producer Laura Shaw explained to Express.co.uk and other media the reasons behind why they chose the much-loved couple for the tricky storyline. 

She said: “Once we’ve done [our] research and spoken to the case studies, we knew that Jane and Laurel were the perfect couple to do this with.

“We had to believe that the characters were making the decision that they felt was right for them at this time.”

Expanding further on why she believed Jai and Laurel suited the tricky ordeal, she added: “Given where they’re at in their relationship, the fact that they’re both addicts that have both got children from previous relationships (and) have both lost children in the past.

“A lot of what Jai and Laurel have been through in the show totally match the reasons that the research showed us where the reasons real-life couples made this decision,” she promised. 

Long-term fans of the show will remember Laurel lost a child back in 2008 when her baby Daniel died of cot death. 

Elsewhere, Laurel and Jai are both recovering addicts of alcohol and drugs respectively and have had a very difficult few years between them. 

But the storyline has sparked a backlash from viewers and beyond as over 16,000 people have signed a petition calling for the soap to reverse their plans to run the plot in the coming weeks. 

Laura added: “I think I’m always nervous, you know, as a producer, I’m always nervous about any storyline that we’ve produced a list and but definitely when you know, it’s going to be quite contentious, and people are going to have some really strong views.”

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However, she insisted this was what made it “such an important to tell,” and went on to describe what she hoped fans would take away from it. 

She added: “I hope they’ll take away that what we’ve shown isn’t about right or wrong, it isn’t about whether you agree or not. It’s just about people making really, really difficult decisions.

“And that they should be allowed to do that without living in fear of being judged or shamed.”

But when asked whether she’d consider changing anything about the plot, the show’s producer was insistent she would not want to. 

“No, to be honest,” she admitted. “Because we’re just totally confident that what we’ve produced has been done in a really balanced and sensitive way. 

“I’ve obviously been reading some of the comments on social media you know, since the story was announced and I can honestly say hand on heart, we’ve addressed and discussed in the episodes, all those points that have been raised – I just urge people please to watch it.”

The producer acknowledged the potential impact the storyline could have on those with Down’s syndrome, adding: “That was probably one of our biggest concerns going into this. 

“The first person that we spoke to, before we spoke to anyone else, before we did any research and before we even spoke to Chris or Charlotte, was Alison Rogerson who’s Harvey’s mum, who plays Leo in the show.

“We had some really long conversations with her and also with other parents who have children with Down’s syndrome.

“We needed to know that we were making the right decision here. The overwhelming response that we got back was that it was an important story to tell and they were supportive of us going ahead with it.”

Emmerdale airs Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7pm and Thursdays at 7pm and 8pm on ITV.

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