Experts reveal if Baby Reindeer's 'Real-Life Martha' could actually sue Netflix

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By VT

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In a tense interview with Piers Morgan, Fiona Harvey - the 'real-life Martha' alleged to have inspired Richard Gadd's gripping series Baby Reindeer - issued a stern warning about taking potential legal action: "There are a number of people to sue."

Since its debut on Netflix, the series - drawing from Gadd's deeply personal experience of being stalked and abused - has captivated audiences worldwide.


However, along with the fascination, it has also stirred speculation about the real-life counterparts of its characters.

The character Martha - depicted as a middle-aged woman fixated on Gadd and played by actress - has become the subject of intense scrutiny, with viewers and internet sleuths eager to uncover her true identity.

During her interview with Morgan, Harvey vehemently denied the allegations leveled against her, particularly regarding the extent of her alleged harassment towards Gadd: "I will be taking legal action against Richard Gadd and Netflix," she asserted.

This threat of legal action raises questions about the line between artistic expression and potential defamation, a topic explored by media law specialist Jessica Welch in an interview with The Independent.

Show creator Richard Gadd with co-star Jessica Gunning. Credit: Karwai Tang / Getty

Welch emphasized the need to prove identifiability and the defamatory nature of allegations, highlighting the complexities of navigating such cases in the realm of the entertainment industry.

“Given how quickly individuals online were able to identify Harvey as the real Martha, there are good arguments for her to assert that she was identified in the show," Welch said.


Welch highlighted the importance of clarity in Netflix's portrayal of the series: "Whether Netflix could have been more careful to explain that the show is 'based on' a true story or that 'some events depicted are fictitious' in those circumstances again depends on what did (or did not) take place."

She outlined the legal steps Harvey would need to take if she were able to prove her identifiability: "If able to prove that she is identifiable from the show, she would then need to set out the defamatory allegations and how they have caused her serious harm."

Welch then stated that - if Harvey was successful - the burden of proof could rest on Gadd and Netflix: "The burden would fall upon Gadd and Netflix to prove that, in fact, the allegations are substantially true. That would come down to a question of evidence and disclosure."

Clive Coleman, a seasoned partner at Maltin PR, also underscored the responsibility creators and broadcasters have to safeguard against defamation.


“[Show creators] will carry out thorough due diligence to ensure any real, living characters are depicted in a way that is non-defamatory,” Coleman said. “Broadcasters will also have editorial guidelines and a duty of care to real people depicted, especially if they are vulnerable individuals."

Dan Jennings, a defamation expert at Shakespeare Martineau law firm, also spoke to The Independent and underscored the serious consequences Internet Slueths could face when attempting to uncover the real individuals portrayed in a show or movie.

"It's imperative that television creators are aware of the risk before entering into agreements with production companies," Jennings said, before pointing out that show creator Richard Gadd had "previously been telling his story as a stage show for several years without scrutiny".

"With the wider audience brought by television, a loss of control occurred, leading to a frenzied witch hunt that has damaged real reputations in the process," he added, before criticizing Netflix for not doing enough "to disguise Martha’s real identity."

He slammed the show for providing too much information regarding Harvey's social media pages, as well as going far "as to hire an actress who resembles her likeness."

In response to mounting speculation, Gadd himself intervened, urging restraint and emphasizing the intended focus of his work: "That's not the point of our show," he wrote on an Instagram Story.

Netflix's policy chief, Benjamin King, has also weighed in on the matter, defending the show's approach to handling of identities and expressing reluctance towards stifling Gadd's storytelling.

"I personally wouldn't be comfortable with a world in which we decided it was better that Richard was silenced and not allowed to tell the story," he told UK lawmakers at a parliament, per BBC News, adding that Netflix cannot control what viewers do.

Featured image credit: PiersMorganUncensored/YouTube

Experts reveal if Baby Reindeer's 'Real-Life Martha' could actually sue Netflix

vt-author-image

By VT

Article saved!Article saved!

In a tense interview with Piers Morgan, Fiona Harvey - the 'real-life Martha' alleged to have inspired Richard Gadd's gripping series Baby Reindeer - issued a stern warning about taking potential legal action: "There are a number of people to sue."

Since its debut on Netflix, the series - drawing from Gadd's deeply personal experience of being stalked and abused - has captivated audiences worldwide.


However, along with the fascination, it has also stirred speculation about the real-life counterparts of its characters.

The character Martha - depicted as a middle-aged woman fixated on Gadd and played by actress - has become the subject of intense scrutiny, with viewers and internet sleuths eager to uncover her true identity.

During her interview with Morgan, Harvey vehemently denied the allegations leveled against her, particularly regarding the extent of her alleged harassment towards Gadd: "I will be taking legal action against Richard Gadd and Netflix," she asserted.

This threat of legal action raises questions about the line between artistic expression and potential defamation, a topic explored by media law specialist Jessica Welch in an interview with The Independent.

Show creator Richard Gadd with co-star Jessica Gunning. Credit: Karwai Tang / Getty

Welch emphasized the need to prove identifiability and the defamatory nature of allegations, highlighting the complexities of navigating such cases in the realm of the entertainment industry.

“Given how quickly individuals online were able to identify Harvey as the real Martha, there are good arguments for her to assert that she was identified in the show," Welch said.


Welch highlighted the importance of clarity in Netflix's portrayal of the series: "Whether Netflix could have been more careful to explain that the show is 'based on' a true story or that 'some events depicted are fictitious' in those circumstances again depends on what did (or did not) take place."

She outlined the legal steps Harvey would need to take if she were able to prove her identifiability: "If able to prove that she is identifiable from the show, she would then need to set out the defamatory allegations and how they have caused her serious harm."

Welch then stated that - if Harvey was successful - the burden of proof could rest on Gadd and Netflix: "The burden would fall upon Gadd and Netflix to prove that, in fact, the allegations are substantially true. That would come down to a question of evidence and disclosure."

Clive Coleman, a seasoned partner at Maltin PR, also underscored the responsibility creators and broadcasters have to safeguard against defamation.


“[Show creators] will carry out thorough due diligence to ensure any real, living characters are depicted in a way that is non-defamatory,” Coleman said. “Broadcasters will also have editorial guidelines and a duty of care to real people depicted, especially if they are vulnerable individuals."

Dan Jennings, a defamation expert at Shakespeare Martineau law firm, also spoke to The Independent and underscored the serious consequences Internet Slueths could face when attempting to uncover the real individuals portrayed in a show or movie.

"It's imperative that television creators are aware of the risk before entering into agreements with production companies," Jennings said, before pointing out that show creator Richard Gadd had "previously been telling his story as a stage show for several years without scrutiny".

"With the wider audience brought by television, a loss of control occurred, leading to a frenzied witch hunt that has damaged real reputations in the process," he added, before criticizing Netflix for not doing enough "to disguise Martha’s real identity."

He slammed the show for providing too much information regarding Harvey's social media pages, as well as going far "as to hire an actress who resembles her likeness."

In response to mounting speculation, Gadd himself intervened, urging restraint and emphasizing the intended focus of his work: "That's not the point of our show," he wrote on an Instagram Story.

Netflix's policy chief, Benjamin King, has also weighed in on the matter, defending the show's approach to handling of identities and expressing reluctance towards stifling Gadd's storytelling.

"I personally wouldn't be comfortable with a world in which we decided it was better that Richard was silenced and not allowed to tell the story," he told UK lawmakers at a parliament, per BBC News, adding that Netflix cannot control what viewers do.

Featured image credit: PiersMorganUncensored/YouTube