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‘real-life’ Martha files $170m lawsuit against Netflix

June 7th, 2024

Fiona Harvey, the woman believed to be the inspiration behind Martha in Baby Reindeer, has filed a $170million (£133m) lawsuit against Netflix.

In a lawsuit filed yesterday (Thursday July 6) in the US district court for the central district of California, Harvey accused the streaming giant of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, gross negligence and violations of her right of publicity (via The Guardian).

It follows the huge success of the drama series Baby Reindeer, which was created and written by Richard Gadd – who also portrays a fictional version of himself, Donny, in the show.

The seven-part programme depicts Gadd’s real experience of being stalked by an older woman called Martha. A title card in the first episode claims it is a “true story”, with many viewers subsequently attempting to find out the real people behind the characters.

This led to Harvey giving her first TV interview on Piers Morgan Uncensored, during which she threatened legal action against both Gadd and Netflix. She later said she was planning a legal case “against all those who have lied about me” in a lengthy statement.

Harvey identified herself as being the inspiration behind Baby Reindeer, but denied many aspects of the story – including being a stalker, sending Gadd 41,000 emails, hundreds of voice messages and over 100 letters.

Richard Gadd in ‘Baby Reindeer’ CREDIT: Ed Miller/Netflix

“I don’t think I sent him anything,” Harvey said in the interview. “There may have been a couple of emails, jokey banter, but that is it.”

Additionally, Harvey said Gadd needed to “prove” that she went to prison – as was depicted in the show. “I’ve never been sent to jail,” she told Morgan.

The lawsuit, which names Netflix as a defendant, says: “The lies that Defendants told about Harvey to over 50million people worldwide include that Harvey is a twice-convicted stalker who was sentenced to five years in prison, and that Harvey sexually assaulted Gadd.

“Defendants told these lies, and never stopped, because it was a better story than the truth, and better stories made money.”

It adds: “Netflix, a multi-national billion-dollar entertainment streaming company did literally nothing to confirm the ‘true story’ that Gadd told. That is, it never investigated whether Harvey was convicted, a very serious misrepresentation of the facts.

“It did nothing to understand the relationship between Gadd and Harvey, if any … As a result of Defendants’ lies, malfeasance and utterly reckless misconduct, Harvey’s life had been ruined. Simply, Netflix and Gadd destroyed her reputation, her character and her life.”

Harvey is seeking at least $50millon (£39m) for actual damages, at least $50million in compensatory damages for “mental anguish, loss of enjoyment and loss of business”, as well as at least $50million for “all profits from Baby Reindeer“, and $20million (£15.6m) for punitive damages.

A spokesperson for Netflix said: “We intend to defend this matter vigorously and to stand by Richard Gadd’s right to tell his story.”

Gadd previously said that he “never saw” his real-life stalker as “a villain”, explaining: “I still had these unbelievable pangs of feeling sorry for her.”

During an interview with The Guardian in April, he said some events had been “tweaked slightly to create dramatic climaxes” in Baby Reindeer – but claimed that the story was “very emotionally true”.

“But we wanted it to exist in the sphere of art, as well as protect the people it’s based on,” he told the publication.

He told GQ: “We’ve gone to such great lengths to disguise [his real stalker] to the point that I don’t think she would recognise herself.”

More recently, Gadd said his co-star Jessica Gunning – who played Martha – didn’t know many details about his real stalker before she took on the role. “I didn’t share any real-life voicemails or emails with Jessica,” Gadd explained. “And she was also very good at being like, ‘I just need the script and that’s fine’.”

He continued: “I wanted Martha to take on a life of its own, to exist outside the real-life people, and I didn’t want it to be like an actor trying to inhabit a person. I wanted it to be its own character.”

Jessica Gunning as Martha in 'Baby Reindeer'
Jessica Gunning as Martha in ‘Baby Reindeer’. CREDIT: Ed Miller/Netflix

Gunning has said she “wasn’t doing an impersonation of a real person” in the series: “She was very clear to me in the script, but I genuinely didn’t know anything about the real person.”

In a statement published last month, Harvey wrote: “I have no doubt that the character of ‘Martha’ in Baby Reindeer was intended to be a portrayal of me. The problem for Richard Gadd and now for Netflix is that Baby Reindeer is not a true story at all.

“I am not a ‘convicted stalker.’ 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.”

She added: “The media firestorm around Baby Reindeer, and my rapid identification as the ‘real Martha,’ have caused untold damage to my health, my reputation, my job prospects and my ability to make sensible decisions about my welfare and best interests. This media firestorm continues, with daily bombardments of calls seeking comment on stories of every possible kind.”

Gadd has not responded to any of Harvey’s claims.

Earlier this week, a lawyer claimed that she too had been stalked by Harvey.

Laura Wray, who employed Harvey for a brief period before she met Gadd, said she immediately recognised that Martha was based on Harvey when she watched Baby Reindeer.

Wray had previously told The Sun that she feared for her safety and the safety of her staff, to the point that she provided them with personal alarms.

Harvey denied Wray’s allegations from The Sun during her interview with Morgan in May.

This content was originally sourced and posted at NME »
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