Alleged ‘Baby Reindeer' inspiration sues Netflix for defamation

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, seeks a total of more than $170 million in damages for FionaHarvey in addition to attorney’s fees

"Baby Reindeer" Netflix show photo.
Ed Miller / Netflix

The woman who allegedly inspired the stalker character Martha in Netflix’s “Baby Reindeer” is suing the streaming company for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims.

The series, created by comedian Richard Gadd, follows his character Donny (whom Gadd plays as a fictionalized version of himself) as he navigates being stalked by an older woman named Martha (played by Jessica Gunning). Though Gadd said the story is based on his true personal experiences, he had insisted that the character Martha is not meant to resemble her real-life counterpart.

But Fiona Harvey, 58, told news host Piers Morgan last month that she was “forced” to come forward as the alleged inspiration for Martha after internet sleuths zoned in on her identity and began harassing her online, even after Gadd himself asked fans to stop with their unsubstantiated guesswork.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, seeks a total of more than $170 million in damages for Harvey in addition to attorney’s fees. It describes the show’s title card, which read “This is a true story,” as the “biggest lie in television history.”

“The Complaint is self-explanatory. Netflix destroyed a woman, claiming, among many allegations, that she was a convicted woman,” Richard Roth, an attorney for Harvey, wrote in an email. “It never contacted her. It never checked the facts. It never made any effort to understand the truth of its ‘true story!’”

Netflix and a representative for Gadd did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

The lawsuit comes several weeks after Harvey made a public statement warning that she was preparing to take legal action against Netflix, in response to her belief that a director of public policy at the company called her a “convicted stalker.” 

“I am not a convicted stalker,” Harvey said in her statement last month. “I have never been charged with any crime, let alone been convicted, still less pleaded guilty and of course I have never been to prison for anything. This is how Gadd and Netflix chose to portray me in a TV show, for their own financial gain.”

In her interview with Morgan, Harvey said she did meet Gadd but disputed many of the events and behaviors portrayed in “Baby Reindeer.”

Thursday’s lawsuit claims that unlike how Martha was portrayed in the show, Harvey has never been convicted of a crime, sexually assaulted Gadd, attacked Gadd, stalked Gadd or stalked a police officer. Netflix’s lack of “due diligence” in verifying these claims combined with the massive popularity of the show, it stated, make “Baby Reindeer” defamatory.

A statement in the end credits reads: “This program is based on real events: however certain characters, names, incidents, locations, and dialogue have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.” But despite the show’s alleged efforts to veil Martha’s real identity, the lawsuit states that Harvey’s identity was left “completely undisguised.” It took only a few days, it stated, for sleuths to begin messaging Harvey on Facebook, naming her in social media forums and leaving threatening comments.

“Like ‘Martha,” Harvey is a Scottish lawyer, living in London, twenty years older than Gadd, was accused of stalking a lawyer in a newspaper article, and who bears an uncanny resemblance to ‘Martha,’” the lawsuit states. “Further, ‘Martha’s’ accent, manner of speaking and cadence, is indistinguishable [from] Harvey’s.”

Harvey has been experiencing physical symptoms of emotional distress, and has become fearful of going out in public or checking the news, according to the suit.

“As a result of [Netflix’s] lies, malfeasance and utterly reckless misconduct, Harvey’s life had been ruined,” the lawsuit states. “Simply, Netflix and Gadd destroyed her reputation, her character and her life.”

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