Johnny Depp has lost his highly publicized libel case against the publisher of Britain’s The Sun newspaper, whose claim that he was an abusive husband sparked a courtroom showdown between the Hollywood star and his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, earlier this year.
Depp sued News Group Newspapers and Dan Wootton — The Sun’s executive editor — over an article that claimed the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star was violent toward Heard while they were together.
But the UK’s High Court ruled in the publisher’s favor on Monday.
Citing evidence, including photos, audio recordings and Depp’s own text messages, lawyers for the newspaper group argued in court filings that Depp “beat his wife Amber Heard, causing her to suffer significant injury, and on occasion leading to her fearing for her life.”
Depp had admitted long-term problems with drugs and alcohol during the trial but said the tabloid’s claims that he was violent toward Heard were “completely untrue.”
However, Judge Andrew Nicol said in his 129-page judgment Monday that the paper’s claims had been shown to be “substantially true.”
“I have reached these conclusions having examined in detail the 14 incidents on which the defendants rely, as well as the over-arching considerations which the claimant submitted I should take into account,” the judge said.
The blockbuster trial included days of tense testimony in July from Depp, Heard and several of their acquaintances, with Heard telling the court that Depp threatened to kill her “many times.”
In their evidence, lawyers for the publisher detailed 14 separate alleged incidents of physical abuse by Depp, which took place in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Australia, and other locations between 2013 and 2016, according to the trial judgement. Depp has denied all incidents of abuse.
In the first alleged incident in early 2013 in Los Angeles, the paper’s lawyers claimed that Heard laughed at something Depp had said, and the actor responded by “repeatedly slapping Ms Heard across the face,” and knocking her to the floor.
The lawyers said Depp told Heard “he snaps sometimes into something he called ‘the monster.’”
Depp’s lawyers said the actor didn’t recall the specific conversation with Heard but “expressly denied” ever slapping or hitting her, according to the judgement.
It remains unclear how severely the trial will damage the reputation of Depp, one of Hollywood’s most recognizable and bankable stars.
In a statement, Depp’s law firm, Schillings, indicated he would contest the ruling, saying “the judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision.”
The Sun, which is owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., said in a statement following the verdict: “The Sun has stood up and campaigned for the victims of domestic abuse for over 20 years. Domestic abuse victims must never be silenced and we thank the judge for his careful consideration and thank Amber Heard for her courage in giving evidence to the court.”
Heard’s lawyer added in a statement to PA Media: “For those of us present for the London High Court trial, this decision and judgment are not a surprise.”
2018 article prompted legal action
The case, which hinged in part on the veracity of testimony from Heard and several people close to the couple, shed light on the stars’ volatile relationship and was covered intensely by international media.
It centered around a 2018 column in The Sun that criticized author JK Rowling for supporting the casting of Depp in the “Harry Potter” spin-off film “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” referring to the actor as a “wife beater.”
The column, written by Wootton, was headlined: “GONE POTTY: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”
The judge accepted that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of violence used to support the article did happen. He cited as evidence of Depp’s feelings towards Heard a 2016 text, in which Depp wrote of his then-wife: “She’s begging for total global humiliation. She’s gonna get it … I have no mercy, no fear and not an ounce of emotion or what I once thought was love for this gold digging, low level, dime a dozen, mushy, pointless dangling overused flappy fish market.”
“A recurring theme in Mr Depp’s evidence was that Ms Heard had constructed a hoax and that she had done this as an ‘insurance policy’ – presumably in the event that the marriage broke down,” the judge noted in his verdict, before noting that her donation of her $7 million divorce settlement to charity “is hardly the act one would expect of a gold-digger.”
The judge also accepted Heard’s claim that the allegations have had a negative impact on her career as an actor and an activist.
And he deemed it was “unlikely” that Heard or a friend defecated on Depp’s bed while he was away, an alleged incident that Depp, in his evidence to the court, said was the final straw in their relationship and the factor that prompted him to seek divorce.
“As long as he was away, it was Ms Heard who was likely to suffer from the faeces on the bed, not him,” the judge wrote. “It was, therefore, a singularly ineffective means for Ms Heard or one of her friends to ‘get back’ at Mr Depp.”
Heard and Depp met in 2009 while co-starring in the film “The Rum Diary,” and the pair married in 2015. The American actress had become known through supporting roles in “Pineapple Express” and “Zombieland,” and she had become involved in activism for women’s and LGBT+ rights. The couple divorced in 2017.
They were involved in a months-long, contentious split, with bad behavior alleged by both sides. Depp denied he was abusive to Heard at the time, and through his representatives, claimed Heard had made up the abuse.
“When Johnny puts his attention on you, with all his intensity and darkness, it is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Heard said in a written witness statement submitted to the court.
“Some incidents were so severe that I was afraid he was going to kill me, either intentionally or just by losing control and going too far. He explicitly threatened to kill me many times, especially later in our relationship,” Heard told the court, according to the UK’s PA Media news agency.