Ex-dentist sues BBC saying they copied plot in Silent Witness episode

Ex-dentist sues BBC saying they copied her script plot in a Silent Witness episode – and when she watched it she was so sickened she threw out her TV

  • Dr Donna Movali took a break from dentistry and pitched a screenplay to ITV
  • She was shocked to watch Silent Witness and discover ‘substantial similarities’ 

A former Harley Street dentist turned screenwriter is suing the BBC, claiming it ‘copied’ one of her plots for hit crime drama Silent Witness.

Dr Donna Molavi says the BBC used her work for a double episode, entitled ‘Betrayal’, first broadcast in November 2019.

She was so shocked when she saw the show that she felt ‘sick’ and later got rid of her television because the sight of it upset her.

Lawyers for Dr Molavi said her work was ‘not a conventional murder mystery’ and contained ‘elements of political intrigue and conspiracy’ which made it unique – and have failed to account for how those involved in the show would have got access to it.

But lawyers for the corporation at London’s High Court say Dr Molavi’s case is not even ‘reasonably arguable’ and should be thrown out before it gets to a full trial.

Dr Donna Molavi took a break from her successful dentistry career to focus on screenwriting

She claims the storyline in two episodes of Silent Witness, called Betrayal (pictured: Betrayal Part 1) ‘copied’ her own work

Sitting last week, High Court judge Mr Justice Marcus Smith heard that Dr Molavi, who lives in South Kensington, London, had taken a career break in order to devote herself fulltime to screenwriting.

In the six years up to 2017, she produced screenplays for three feature length films, which she called ‘Beyond Control’, ‘Last Hours’ and ‘Eye on Eye’.

But between 2016 and 2018, she says she had also developed an idea for a script involving a forensic pathologist investigating a covered up killing, entitled ‘London Dark Web’.

Two synopses documents and one detailing the storyline were produced, and later two draft screenplays, said her barrister, Martin Howe KC.

It was pitched to ITV, but despite being commissioned, did not make it to the screen.

Dr Molavi said she was then shocked in November 2019 to watch episodes of long-running BBC drama ‘Silent Witness’ and spot ‘substantial similarities’ with her own works.

‘It is the claimant’s case that her plot is distinctive and unusual in the context of forensic pathology series,’ said her barrister.

‘Unlike the average forensic pathology series storyline, the claimant’s plot is not a conventional murder mystery.

‘It features elements of political intrigue and conspiracy.’

Mr Molavi complains that elements of her work appeared in ‘Betrayal’, which also features a plot centred on a ‘dispute over the accuracy of findings made by the protagonist in a post-mortem examination report.’

Like her work, she says, ‘Betrayal’ features professional criticism being made of the pathologist and, ultimately, discovery that a body has been tampered with and vindication of the main character.

‘I immediately recognised plot elements and features that derived from my work,’ says Dr Molavi in her witness statement.

‘These similarities are beyond coincidence. There is no doubt that the writers of these episodes had seen my works and used the plot disclosed in them to devise the plot of ‘Betrayal’.

Silent Witness is a drama series focussed on forensic pathologists, most notably Dr Nikki Alexander who is played by Emilia Fox

‘I remember feeling sick after watching the episode… In the days after this, I remember feeling panicked whenever I saw the television in my flat.

‘I ended up getting rid of that television and I have not really watched much television since.

‘I do not know how the writers of ‘Betrayal’ obtained access to my works, but I believe it is clear that someone involved in the creation of ‘Betrayal’ did have access to my works.’

Her barrister said: ‘It is of course the claimant’s case that the two episodes of ‘Betrayal’ as televised reproduce a substantial part of her work.’

He said it is not clear how her work might have got to programme makers, but that ‘substantial similarities’ between it and ‘Betrayal’ lead to an ‘inference of copying.’

‘A large number of individuals had access to the claimant’s first two works, the first and second synopses,’ he told the judge.

‘A number of individuals may not have had copies of the first and second synopses, but were at least informed of the storyline disclosed in those documents.

‘Pending disclosure, the claimant cannot identify the exact route by which individuals involved in the creation of ‘Betrayal’ accessed and used her work.’

Dr Molavi claims ‘Betrayal’ is an ‘infringing reproduction of her work’ and the storyline a ‘misuse of confidential information,’ and wants a declaration to that effect from the judge.

She has sued the BBC, as well as writer Virginia Gilbert, but both deny using Dr Molavi’s work in devising the plot for the episodes, which formed the finale of the 22nd series of ‘Silent Witness’.

The case reached court last week as they attempted to have Dr Molavi’s claim thrown out without even going to a full trial, claiming it is not ‘reasonably arguable.’

BBC barrister, Andrew Norris KC, said they had been given a list of every person who had been suggested as a ‘possible route of access’ for programme makers to Dr Molavi’s work.

‘The BBC has chased them all down and they have indicated how they don’t know each other and didn’t communicate with each other,’ he told the judge.

And although Dr Molavi does not believe what had been said, she had not challenged it by putting forward how exactly she says her works came into BBC hands, he said.

‘If there is no access, then it should not go to trial,’ he continued.

‘She doesn’t like the evidence, but that is the evidential position – and we say that’s pretty telling.’

He said Dr Molavi had not positively asserted where and when and by whom her work was accessed, and that a ‘theory about it is not enough.’

‘It’s a guess, she doesn’t know,’ he said.

Mr Justice Marcus Smith reserved his ruling on the application for a summary judgement until a later date.

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