|First appearance||Episode 3217
5 September 2006
|Billy's Olympic Nightmare (2012)|
It was reported on 22 July 2006 that a character with Down's syndrome would be introduced to EastEnders. The newborn daughter of established characters Billy (Perry Fenwick) and Honey Mitchell (Emma Barton), the baby was to be named Janet. An EastEnders source said, "We will strive to handle this storyline sensitively" and Carol Boys, of the Down's Syndrome Association added, "We are delighted that EastEnders feature a baby with Down's syndrome. What a great way to get the message across that having a baby with Down's syndrome is not the end of the world."
Janet is born in September 2006, the day of Billy and Honey's wedding. Billy and Honey had already agreed to name the baby Janet, after Honey's mother and Billy's mother. Janet is diagnosed with Down's syndrome shortly after her birth. Honey has trouble coming to terms with Janet's condition, and when it is revealed that Janet needs a heart operation, Honey says it will be better for everyone if Janet dies. Honey then refuses to let her daughter be named Janet, as she does not visualise her daughter's future that way. Billy has already started calling her "Petal" as a term of affection, so suggests that they name her that.
Janet (now called Petal) is brought home from the hospital, and Honey finds it hard to cope, wanting to have her adopted. She considers smothering Janet with a pillow, but cannot do it. Honey runs away to her father, Jack Edwards' (Nicky Henson) canal boat in Kent. Billy tracks her down and takes Janet with him. He puts her by the canal, saying that people used to leave babies with Down's syndrome outdoors overnight, and if the baby survived, they'd keep it. Honey is shocked by Billy's actions and he picks her up and they go home. Despite Billy's courage and love for her, Honey's fear of bringing up Janet wins out, and Billy and Honey put her up for adoption, giving her up to a foster family, Kim (Lorraine Arnold) and Tony Smith (Enzo Squillino Jr.), just prior to Christmas. However, when Janet is taken into hospital for major surgery, Billy goes to see her, and when Honey reads Billy's letter to a woman named Petal, she follows, walking in on her Christening. The doctors say she will be fine after surgery. In September 2008, Janet moves away with Honey and her brother William Mitchell (Toby Warpole), after Billy's relationship with Honey did not work out. However, they still go to visit Billy.
In May 2010, Billy is forced to look after Janet and William, after Honey and Jack are involved in a car crash. He struggles to tell them that Jack has died, and that Honey is in a critical condition. Later that night, Billy finds Janet playing with the drugs that he had been attempting to sell before he found out about the crash, and with that, he sends her to Phil Mitchell's (Steve McFadden). In July 2011, Janet and William meet Billy's granddaughter Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold). In July 2012, Janet and William later appear when Billy is carrying the Olympic torch for the London Olympics 2012 in a special live segment of the soap. Janet returns in February 2014, with William. She returns again on 27 May 2014, when Honey visits Walford to tell Billy that she is moving to Canada with Janet and William. Billy is devastated and burns Janet's passport to try and stop them from leaving. Honey remains determined, but decides to leave Janet with Billy, when she realises how well she is doing. Janet says goodbye to Honey and William, before officially moving in with Billy, Lola and Lola's daughter, Lexi Pearce (Dotti-Beau Cotterill), until Lola and Lexi leave in July 2015.
In November 2015, Honey and Will (now Freddie Phillips) return from Canada and Billy and Honey decide to give their relationship another go. In October 2016, Billy, Honey, Will and Janet move into the flat above the funeral parlour, where Billy is made a partner in the business. When Janet is struck by a car and hospitalised in October 2017, Billy hurts Honey when he accuses her of treating Janet differently from Will. Janet initially cannot feel her legs but makes a full recovery. Billy wants to get Janet a dog, so Karen Taylor (Lorraine Stanley) agrees that Billy can have her dog Bronson for a few nights for Janet.
The storyline involving the birth of Janet Mitchell has been criticised by the Royal College of Midwives, who claim the storyline was inaccurate and unrealistic. They claim that Honey should not have been refused an epidural and should not have been told about her daughter's condition without her husband being present. Further to this, Honey and the baby were being looked after by a character who was repeatedly referred to as "nurse Cheryl", when in fact, a midwife would be present, and would check on the baby continuously, rather than leave the mother alone to worry and then disappear without being noticed. They also claim that the baby appeared rigid when in fact she should have been floppy, and that nobody opened the baby's blanket to check.
The BBC say a great deal of research was undertaken such as talking to families with children who have Down's syndrome, and liaising with a senior midwife as well as the Down's Syndrome Association. The BBC say Honey was not refused an epidural but had actually locked herself away in the bathroom. They were also unable to cast a baby with Down's syndrome for the first few episodes, which is why the baby appeared rigid. The Down's Syndrome Association say that the way in which Billy and Honey found out about their baby's condition and their subsequent support is not a best practice model, but is still a realistic situation. Conversely, learning disability charity Mencap have praised the soap, saying it will help to raise awareness.
- BBC One - EastEnders, 24/02/2014
- "Down's baby in Enders, The Sun. URL last accessed 2008-04-13.
- "BBC soap EastEnders slammed over Down's Syndrome baby birth". 24dash.com. 2006-09-13. Archived from the original on 2006-09-14. Retrieved 2006-09-28.
- "Midwives attack EastEnders plot". BBC News. 2006-09-12. Retrieved 2006-09-28.
- "Mencap praise for Down's syndrome soap story". bounty.com. Archived from the original on October 18, 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-28.
- Sandwell, Ian (3 May 2016). "EastEnders and Hollyoaks top the shortlist for the British Soap Awards 2016". Digital Spy. Retrieved 3 May 2016.