Fiona Harvey’s Lawyer On The Baby Reindeer Case: ‘This Is Not A True Story’

As the 'real-life Martha' sues Netflix for defamation, her lawyer has talked about the case

Fiona Harvey

by Daisy Hall |
Published on

Months after Baby Reindeer topped Netflix’s viewing records, the drama series is still a source. of fascination. Sparking a huge conversation about privacy and the dramatisation of real-life events, the legal case facing Netflix has the potential to have a long-lasting impact on the entertainment industry.

Already a difficult watch, delving into topics of harassment, stalking, and sexual assault, it was the disclaimer in the very first episode of Baby Reindeer - which read, ‘This is a true story’ - that has caused mass debate.

Once viewers knew that Richard Gadd’s story was real, it didn’t take long for them to uncover the 'real-life Martha' aka Fiona Harvey. As Fiona – a Scottish lawyer – was thrust into the spotlight, she revealed that she was unhappy with her supposed portrayal in Baby Reindeer.

In a statement she said, ‘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.

‘Nobody ever approached me for any comment on the accuracy of Baby Reindeer or the very serious and damaging allegation that I am a convicted criminal, with a serious criminal record, who has spent time in prison. Nobody ever asked for my permission to present me in this way or to use my image at all.’

As a result, Fiona Harvey decided to take legal action against the streaming platform, filing a $170million lawsuit against Netflix for defamation, negligence and privacy violations.

And now, Fiona’s lawyer, US-based attorney Richard Roth, has opened up about the case.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about why he decided to advocate for Harvey, Roth said: ‘There’s four things about this case that appealed to me. One: I really think there’s a whole issue that goes on in this world about truth. It’s huge in this country, about fake news. Everyone watches things, and they come away from it, whether it’s Fox TV or NBC… it’s all about what you see. And that really is a shame. And one problem with this case is that truth is truth. There’s only one truth, but when Netflix says this is a true story, that’s rubbish. This isn’t a true story. And I think if Netflix is going to say this is a true story, then they have an obligation to make it a true story. That’s the first thing.

‘The second thing is that it’s horrific that this woman, who is very vulnerable, has now been thrust into the limelight and is getting death threats and can’t even leave her apartment because Richard Gadd decided to, essentially, for lack of a better word, exploit her. So that’s the second reason — I feel really bad for her. The third reason, of course, is money. I think there’s a tremendous amount of money we have here. And the fourth reason is because I think it’s exciting. I strongly believe that Fiona has been wronged here, and, by pursuing the litigation, the case will be a fulfilling win. I tell Netflix to bring it on.

‘I do believe that Netflix should be ashamed of itself. It is reprehensible. When you say this is a true story, you better make sure that it’s true.’

Ultimately - according to his interview with The Hollywood Reporter - Richard Roth believes that the whole case boils down to Netflix’s claim that Baby Reindeer is a true story, not based on one.

He explained, ‘That statement is false, right? That’s where it starts. And then when they decide not to hide Fiona Harvey’s identity — yeah, they changed her name, but that’s it — and they literally make it so easy for anyone to discover who it is.

‘It’s a liability, that is, they’re exposed for it. But they’re creating real harm to a person. This is a person who is vulnerable. She’s a wonderful human being, and it just really is misogynistic. It’s just wrong to attack this woman the way they did, and that’s what makes this an interesting case because that’s what gives [Netflix] risk.’

Richard later continued, ‘It would if they said, “This is not a true story. This is fictitious,” or, “This is based on a true story.” If they said something other than “This is a true story,” then they would be protected. But if they’re saying this is true, then it should be true.

‘You give a fictitious name of a bar. You change the tweets a little bit. Instead of saying, “Hang your curtains,” they could say, “Put up your drapes,” right? Instead of saying “Baby Reindeer,” they can say “Infant whatever.” Netflix is in the business of making sure people are protected, and they did nothing.’

For their part, Netflix have asserted that their disclaimer at the start of Baby Reindeer is accurate and are willing to fight Fiona’s lawsuit. A Netflix spokesperson previously said, ‘We intend to defend this matter vigorously and to stand by Richard Gadd’s right to tell his story.’

Responding to that statement Richard Roth said, ‘[In] their press release that they announced after the complaint was filed, they said, “We want to allow Gadd to tell his story.” Not a “true story,” [but] “his story,” which is interesting. So is it Gadd’s story, or is it the truth?

‘When we go through our complaint, it’s very, very detailed about [Harvey] never stalking Gadd. About her never attacking Gadd. About how Netflix defames Harvey in its promotion on the website. I assume you know that Benjamin King [Netflix’s director of public policy] testified in front of the House of Commons and said that she was a convicted felon. There’s so many things they did here, which are so wrong. They have to be held accountable.’

More and more dramas based on real-life events are being commissioned and aired, and so it’s likely that this case will become a benchmark for any individuals who feel threatened by their portrayal, like Fiona Harvey.

Indeed, in 2020 the real Linda Fairstein – one of prosecutors in the case of the Central Park Five - took legal action against Netflix’s portrayal of her in When They See Us, a gripping and powerful series which dramatised the infamous legal case. Earlier this month Netflix and the show's creator Ava DuVernay settled with Linda and agreed to move the dramatisation disclaimer from the credits to the beginning of the episode.

Whilst Richard Roth seems convinced that he has a strong case when it comes to Baby Reindeer, it will be interesting to see Netflix’s legal defence. Unlike with When They See Us, they don’t claim that Baby Reindeer is a dramatisation and that could be their downfall.

Daisy Hall is a News and Entertainment writer on Grazia, specialising in TV and film meaning that you can count on Daisy for the latest (and best) recommendations.

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