Woman files lawsuit against Netflix over Baby Reindeer character

A Scottish woman, who is claimed to be the inspiration for the character Martha in the popular Netflix series Baby Reindeer, is suing Netflix for defamation, negligence, and privacy violations. Fiona Harvey, who alleges that Martha from Baby Reindeer is based on her, filed a lawsuit in a California court on Thursday, arguing that Netflix spread “brutal lies” about her to over 50 million viewers worldwide.

The lawsuit demands over $170 million (£132 million) in damages, with Harvey asserting that Baby Reindeer wrongly portrayed her as a convicted criminal who had been imprisoned for stalking.

According to court documents, Harvey also denies sexually assaulting the show’s creator, asserting that Netflix “told these lies, and never stopped, because it was a better story than the truth, and better stories made money.” The series includes a scene where the character Martha is shown sexually assaulting the protagonist by a canal at night.

In an interview with BBC News on Thursday, Harvey expressed confidence in winning the case against Netflix. “I have no doubt about that. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing it. We think we are going to win,” she said.

The first episode of the series claims it is a true story, though the end credits clarify that the program “is based on real events: however certain characters, names, incidents, locations, and dialogue have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.”

Last month, while testifying before the Culture Media and Sport Committee in Parliament, Netflix executive Benjamin King stated that the show depicted “a true story of the horrific abuse that the writer and protagonist Richard Gadd suffered at the hands of a convicted stalker.” Comedian Richard Gadd, who wrote and stars in the series, recounts his alleged experience of being stalked by a woman he met at the pub where he worked. He is not named as a defendant in Harvey’s lawsuit, and neither Gadd nor Harvey’s real names are used in the series.

On social media, Gadd has previously asked fans not to try to identify Martha, the stalker character he first described in a stand-up comedy routine. Harvey has identified herself as the woman portrayed as Martha, though Netflix and Gadd have not confirmed this.

Harvey’s lawsuit claims that Netflix “did literally nothing” to verify the truth of Gadd’s story before producing the series. The complaint argues that Netflix did not investigate whether Harvey had a criminal conviction, which is a serious misrepresentation, nor did it confirm the nature of the relationship between Gadd and Harvey, or the accuracy of the alleged assault, stalking, or conviction.

Richard Roth, Harvey’s New York-based lawyer, told BBC News on Thursday that he has “incontrovertible documentary evidence” showing his client has never been convicted of a crime. The lawsuit includes a background check and a certificate attesting that Harvey has no criminal convictions.

The character Martha is portrayed as a convicted stalker who is later arrested after Gadd’s character reports her to the police. Roth emphasized that there is “no doubt” Harvey’s identity was used for the Baby Reindeer plot.

Harvey, who resides in the UK, claims that since the series’ release in April, she has received numerous death threats, leaving her “fearful of leaving her home or checking the news.” The lawsuit states she has become extremely reclusive, often going days without leaving her home.

In an extensive interview with Piers Morgan last month, Harvey acknowledged knowing Gadd during his time working at a London pub but denied acting like the character Martha, who in the show sends 41,000 emails and leaves 350 hours of voicemail messages for Gadd’s character. “None of that’s true. I don’t think I sent him anything,” she said. “No, I think there may have been a couple of emails exchanged, but that was it. Just jokey banter emails.”

The lawsuit also claims that real comments Harvey made to Gadd, including a tweet from 2014, are used in the show’s dialogue.

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