Hollywood star Johnny Depp will discover next Monday whether he has won his blockbuster libel action against a newspaper which labelled him a ‘wife beater’.
The 57-year-old actor, who strenuously denies wrongdoing, sued News Group Newspapers, publishers of The Sun, and its executive editor Dan Wootton over an article in April 2018.
It stated he had been violent towards his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, 34, and questioned his casting in the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them franchise.
Both Pirates of the Caribbean actor Depp and Aquaman star Heard gave evidence before Judge Andrew Nicol during a three-week hearing at London’s High Court.
The extraordinary case in July laid bare their tempestuous private lives as the court was told of allegations of serious domestic abuse, drug taking and affairs.
The judgement in the ‘Depp v News Group Newspapers Ltd’ case will be published online at 10am next Monday and there will be no hearing at court.
Johnny Depp (left) sued News Group Newspapers over a article from 2018 which stated he had been violent towards his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard (right, both pictured in London in July)
Depp and Heard at the Black Mass premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015
Depp being taken to hospital with a severed finger, following an incident in Australia in March 2015. The defence claims Heard was allegedly choked, slapped and cut with broken glass before Depp ‘severed his own fingertip’ and scrawled messages on walls with his blood
Depp insisted that the only attack on the 2015 trip had been launched by Heard when she hurled a bottle at him and caused the injury which cut off the top of his finger (above)
A photograph allegedly taken by Heard that shows a pint of whisky, four lines of cocaine and his skull and crossbones ‘pill box’ ready for consumption, in an attempt to show Depp’s lifestyle
The trial of his libel claim garnered worldwide attention as it unfolded, with Depp and Heard both attending the hearings which featured days of high drama.
The court heard evidence over 16 days from both stars, friends and relatives of the couple and several former and current employees.
Depp and Heard gave evidence before Judge Andrew Nicol (above) at London’s High Court
These included claims of brutal violence and sensational revelations about their tempestuous relationship.
Depp spent around 20 hours in the witness box over five days, facing intense questioning about his Hollywood lifestyle, his use of drink and drugs, allegations of violence and his friendships and associations with famous faces including Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and musician Sir Elton John.
In closing arguments, the actor’s barrister David Sherborne said Depp’s case was about vindication.
He said: ‘What is important to Mr Depp is clearing his name of these appalling allegations, expanded on as it has been over the last four years, as a result of which he has lost nothing less than everything, he would say.
The carnage in a property in Australia after Depp and Heard allegedly had a fight in 2015
Depp admitted doing graffiti on a bathroom mirror after a fight with Heard, which resulted in his finger being severed. He said that some of it was done with his blood and some with paint
Heard claimed Depp physically abused her one day before she was on The Late, Late Show with James Corden on on December 16, 2015 (above) – and said after her appearance that she ‘just did that show with two black eyes’
Heard’s make-up artist claimed she had to cover up the actress’ facial injuries before she appeared on James Corden’s show after Depp allegedly tried to smother her with a pillow
Texts sent by Heard to her mother Paige Heard in March 2013, which were read out in court
‘When I say he has lost everything, to him obviously everything is his reputation. This is not about money, this is vindicating him.’
Johnny Depp v The Sun: Key issues in libel trial at London’s High Court
These are the key six issues trial judge Mr Justice Nicol has to determine:
– Whether the April 2018 article by the tabloid’s executive editor Dan Wootton was defamatory of Depp. Under the Defamation Act 2013, a statement is not defamatory unless its publication causes ‘serious harm to the reputation of the claimant’.
– The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN), is defending the claim and relying on a defence of truth. It is for the publisher to prove that the allegations made in the article are ‘substantially true’.
– The meaning of the article, which is defined as what it would mean to the ‘reasonable reader’, will have to be determined by the judge. But NGN’s lawyers say the differences between the rival meanings contended by each side are ‘not significant’ and the outcome of the case will therefore not turn on meaning.
– Depp’s case is that the article bore the meaning that he was ‘guilty, on overwhelming evidence, of serious domestic violence against his then wife, causing significant injury and leading to her fearing for her life, for which he was constrained to pay no less than £5 million to compensate her, and which resulted in him being subjected to a continuing court restraining order; and for that reason is not fit to work in the film industry’. He strenuously denies the allegations and claims he ‘has never hit or committed any acts of physical violence against Ms Heard’.
– The meaning which NGN will seek to prove is true is that the Claimant beat his wife Amber Heard, causing her to suffer significant injury and on occasion leading her to fearing for her life. They rely on 14 separate allegations of violence and allege more generally that Depp was ‘controlling and verbally and physically abusive’ towards Ms Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and or drugs, throughout their relationship. NGN’s lawyers say an important issue for the judge to decide will be what substances Depp was using during the relationship. They contend that he frequently lost control of himself, partly because of his heavy drug and alcohol use, and also that his memory has been impaired by his heavy use of drugs.
– If Depp wins his case, the judge will have to decide what level of compensation he should receive for the harm to his reputation and for the ‘distress, hurt and humiliation caused’. There is an upper limit on general damages for libel of £300,000 to £325,000. However, if he succeeds, Depp may also be entitled to aggravated damages. The actor is also asking for a final injunction against NGN, who his legal team say ‘have retained the article on their website and maintained their allegation to the bitter end’.
Sasha Wass QC, for NGN, argued there was ‘no doubt that Mr Depp regularly and systematically abused his wife, adding: ‘The characterisation that he is a wife-beater is entirely truthful.’
The couple met while making The Rum Diary in 2011 and married in February 2015, but Heard filed for divorce 15 months later.
Depp told the court he was never violent towards his ex-wife, that she was lying, and that she had attacked him on numerous occasions. He said he lost the tip of a finger after she threw a vodka bottle at him during one ferocious row.
Heard said Depp would turn into a jealous alter ego, ‘the monster’, after bingeing on drugs and alcohol.
He had often threatened to kill her, she told the hearings, detailing 14 occasions of extreme violence when she said the actor choked, punched, slapped, head-butted, throttled and kicked her.
The judge has to decide whether the Sun article caused ‘serious harm’ to Depp’s reputation and whether the allegations made by the paper were substantially true.
If Depp wins, his lawyers have argued he would be ‘entitled to very substantial damages as only a substantial award can start to compensate him for the damage and distress the defendants’ appalling allegations have had and ‘nail the lie’.’
They said in practice there was a ceiling on general damages of between £300,000 and £325,000 ($391,000 to $423,600) but argued Depp should also receive aggravated damages, saying the Sun’s response to his claim had added to the ‘harm, distress and need for vindication’.
If he loses, his reputation will be severely damaged and he may struggle to land major film parts in future, commentators say.
On top of the London action, Depp has also filed a $50million defamation lawsuit against Heard in a Virginia court over an opinion piece she wrote in The Washington Post.
As the trial drew to a close, Heard stood outside on the steps of the High Court and said she stood by her evidence.
The actress told of her pain in an impassioned speech in late July in what was viewed by some to have been an attempt to the glory from Depp’s lawyer summing up his case inside.
As his barrister David Sherborne gave a closing speech against the woman he called a ‘compulsive liar’ who sported ‘magic bruises’ that appeared only when she needed them, Heard marched out early and stood on the steps to vow: ‘I stand by my testimony and I now place my faith in British justice.’
She was heckled by jeering Depp fans, who booed and shrieked ‘liar’ and ‘it takes two to tango’.
Heard, flanked by sister Whitney and girlfriend Bianca Butti, accused Depp of wasting the ‘precious resources’ of British justice by pursuing his case during the coronavirus crisis.
Heard, who was the newspaper’s star witness, clutched her heart and said: ‘I did not file this lawsuit and, despite its significance, I would have preferred not to be in court.
‘It has been incredibly painful to relive the break-up of my relationship, have my motives and my truth questioned, and the most traumatic and intimate details of my life with Johnny shared in court and broadcast around the entire world.
The court saw photos of Depp’s face taken by a friend after Heard claims he headbutted her
Depp allegedly tried to burn this painting, pictured in May 2013, which was done by Heard’s ex-partner Tasya van Ree. This picture was allegedly taken in Heard’s garage, where she put the painting after Depp is said to have tried to set it alight
Photographs were issued by Heard’s legal team of her with injuries to her face around the time of an alleged attack on December 15, 2015, showing bruising across the bridge of her nose and under her eyes after Depp allegedly headbutted her
The court saw a picture of Heard and Depp on honeymoon on the Eastern and Oriental Express in 2015, with his QC claiming his reddened nose is a sign of injury inflicted by his then wife
During their visits to Australia in 2015, the couple stayed in this mansion owned by former MotoGP champion Mick Doohan
‘I am aware of the precious resources being consumed by his litigation and will be glad to see those resources re-directed back to more important legal matters already delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.’
The 14 times Johnny Depp is accused of attacking Amber Heard
1. Early 2013: Heard says Depp was completely sober until early 2013, and around that time he allegedly hit her for the first time when they were in Los Angeles. She claims Depp later cried and apologised, telling her that he sometimes turns into ‘the monster’ when he snaps. Depp has ‘expressly denied’ hitting Heard and said that, around early 2013, he had ‘confined himself to drinking wine and using marijuana, having been sober from around December 2011 to August 2012’.
2. March 8, 2013: Heard claims Depp was angry she had hung up a painting by her ex-partner Tasya Van Ree by her bed in her LA home, then tried to set the painting on fire and hit her ‘so hard that blood from her lip ended up on the wall’. Depp, however, says he simply asked Heard to move the painting from the bedroom ‘as a courtesy’ and that she had an ‘extreme reaction’. He also says a text he later sent describing the evening as a ‘disco bloodbath’ was to ‘placate Ms Heard’ and not an apology for alleged violence.
3. June 2013: Heard and Depp were in Hicksville, US with a group of people including Heard’s sister Whitney and Depp’s assistant Nathan Holmes. Heard says Depp, who was ‘taking drugs’, became ‘enraged’ and ‘jealous’ when one of her friends touched her, and he then threw glasses at her, ripped her dress and damaged the cabin they were staying in. Depp says he drank and took magic mushrooms, as did Heard and her friends who also took MDMA. He claims Heard’s friend touched Heard in an ‘extremely sexual manner’ and he spoke to her to ask her to stop.
4. May 24, 2014: The pair took a private plan from Boston to LA: Heard says that during the flight Depp, who had been drinking heavily, threw objects at her, pushed a chair at her, slapped her and kicked her in the back before passing out in the toilet. Depp says Heard ‘began to harangue him’ as he was sketching in a notebook, he then tried to ‘playfully tap her on the bottom with his foot’, at which Heard took ‘great offence’ and ‘continued to verbally berate’ him.
5. August 17, 2014: The couple went to the Bahamas, Depp says to ‘cure his dependence on painkillers’, although Heard claims he was trying to give up other drugs too. Heard says Depp had ‘several manic episodes’ and his private doctor had to be flown over to help. She alleges that he slapped, kicked and grabbed by the hair during an attack. Depp alleges Heard stopped a nurse from giving him treatment while he was going through withdrawal.
6. December 17, 2014: Heard says Depp was ‘violent towards’ her in LA, and later texted calling himself a ‘f****** savage’ and a ‘lunatic’. Depp denies any allegation of violence and says NGN has ‘failed to provide any particulars of the alleged violence’.
7. January 25, 2015: While the couple were in Tokyo, Japan, Heard claims Depp shoved and slapped her and grabbed her by the hair, before standing over her and shouting while she was on the floor – which Mr Depp denies.
8. Around March 3-5, 2015: Depp is said to have repeatedly assaulted Heard after an argument over his alleged use of MDMA during a three-day trip to Australia. She says he stayed up all night, taking pills and drinking, and then attacked her again the next morning. Heard says, the following night, Depp pushed her into a table tennis table, tore off her nightgown and attacked her, before smashing a telephone into a wall and severing the top of his middle finger. She also claims he had written messages to her around the house in a mixture of paint and blood from his finger, which Depp admits doing while ‘in shock’, as well as having ‘urinated all over the house in an attempt to write messages’, which he denies. Depp says Heard was in ‘a prolonged and extreme rage’ following an argument over a post-nuptial agreement. He says he then ‘broke my sobriety’ with several glass of vodka, before Heard threw a bottle at him, severing the top of his finger, and stubbed a cigarette out on his cheek.
9. March 2015: Heard says Depp became ‘enraged’ when they were in LA with her sister and began destroying things in the house before hitting her ‘hard and repeatedly’. She also claims he tried to push her sister down the stairs before hitting Heard again. Depp, however, says Heard was ‘berating him in a rage’ as he tried to leave, threw a can of Red Bull at him and punched him in the face before he finally left.
10. August 2015: While they were on the Eastern and Oriental Express in south east Asia, Heard alleges Depp ‘picked a fight’ with her, hit her and pushed her against a wall by the throat, ‘causing her to fear for her life’ – which is denied by Depp.
11. November 26, 2015: In LA, Depp is alleged to have ripped Heard’s shirt and ‘threw her around the room’, also throwing a wine glass and a ‘heavy glass decanter’ at her, as well as pushing her over a chair which caused her to bang her head against a wall. Depp says they were in LA for Thanksgiving, but denies any allegation of abuse.
12. December 15, 2015: Heard claims Depp threw a decanter at her in their penthouse in LA, then slapped her and dragged her through the apartment by her hair, allegedly pulling ‘large chunks of hair’ from Heard’s scalp. She says he then followed her upstairs and pushed her to the floor while shouting ‘you think you’re a f****** tough guy’ before headbutting her. Heard says that when she told Depp she wanted to leave him he grabbed her and screamed: ‘I f****** will kill you – I’ll f****** kill you, you hear me?’ Depp, though, says ‘Ms Heard fabricated the alleged violence’, falsely claiming that ‘blonde hair on the floor was her hair’. He also claims that ‘the only violence committed on that date was by Ms Heard’, who allegedly ‘violently attacked’ him.
13. April 21, 2016: Heard says Depp arrived at her birthday party at their LA home late, ‘drunk and high on drugs’ and they had an argument after the guests had left. She claims he threw a bottle of champagne at her and shoved her to the floor several times before leaving a note reading: ‘Happy F****** Birthday.’ Depp says he arrived at the party around two hours late following a meeting with his new business manager and accountants, and that he was not on drugs but ‘shocked from what he had learnt at the meeting about his business affairs’. He claims Heard had been ‘drinking heavily’ and attacked him while he was reading in bed, punching him in the face four times before he grabbed her arms to stop her. Depp says the next day Heard or one of her friends ‘defecated in Mr Depp’s and Ms Heard’s bed’, and that Heard later told the building manager Kevin Murphy that it was ‘just a harmless prank’ – at which he point he ‘then resolved to divorce Ms Heard’.
14. May 21, 2016: Depp arrived at their LA apartment, allegedly ‘drunk and high’ while Heard was there with friends. Heard said Depp became ‘very angry’, throwing her phone at her and hitting her in the eye before smashing ‘everything he could’ with a magnum of champagne. He says he went to the apartment with two security guards to collect his belongings after Heard and her sister ‘repeatedly’ tried to contact him. Depp claims his two security guards entered the room when they heard Heard shouting, and saw her ‘repeatedly screaming, ‘stop hitting me, Johnny” while he was 20 feet away in the kitchen. He also says that two police officers who attended the apartment after the incident ‘saw no injuries or bruising or swelling’.
Her remarks were timed to upstage the closing remarks of Mr Sherborne, who told the court her allegations of domestic violence were ‘utterly implausible’ and logistically impossible.
Depp was ‘a Southern gentleman who… has never hit a woman in his entire life. Period. Full stop. Nada’, he said.
He accused The Sun newspaper of publishing a ‘reputation-destroying, careershe allegation’ and proclaimed: ‘He is no wife beater.’
He branded Heard a serial liar who was doing ‘a huge disservice to genuine victims’ of domestic violence and the #MeToo movement by ‘couching herself as one of them’.
He read out a text she had sent in August 2014 saying: ‘This is Amber. And I get what I want.’
Dismissing Miss Heard’s video footage of Depp quaffing red wine for breakfast and angrily slamming cupboard doors in his West Hollywood kitchen, he said: ‘Johnny Depp, kitchen cupboard beater, he can live with. Johnny Depp, wife beater, he cannot.’
For Miss Heard’s 14 horrific claims of domestic violence to be true, others who say they did not see her injuries must have lied, he told the court.
‘Doctors were lying, nurses were lying, police officers are lying? Only Miss Heard was correct?’
Referring to secret recordings Miss Heard sometimes made of her arguments with Depp, he said none actually showed the actor’s alleged acts of brutality.
Mr Sherborne said: ‘We ask, in all the years of violence that she alleges, where are the secret recordings of Mr Depp knocking seven bells out of her, grabbing her by the throat, ripping out her hair?
‘Nowhere. The problem for Miss Heard is that she knows full well there was nothing for her to record. Mr Depp was not a violent man.’
All but one of the accounts of physical violence were witnessed by no one except Heard, he said, suggesting that other witnesses were merely relaying what had told them.
He added that during her four days on the witness stand she had kept ‘tossing in lies’, including the ‘unscripted malevolence’ of suddenly saying Depp once threw ex-girlfriend Kate Moss down the stairs.
She had ‘tailored her stories to meet the evidence against her’, including changing dates, and ‘inventing whole incidents’, Mr Sherborne said.
Two police officers who attended her Los Angeles apartment on May 21, 2016, when she alleged Depp hurled a phone into her face and then trashed the penthouse, had seen no injuries and no damage. Mr Sherborne said: ‘Someone is plainly lying.’
Photos showing bruising on Miss Heard’s face were taken ‘of an actress – someone familiar with the use of make-up to present a fictional scene’, he said.
He described one of Miss Heard’s allegations made from the witness box, that after swallowing ecstasy Depp had assaulted a stewardess on a flight to Moscow – because he thought she was ‘hitting on’ Heard – as gratuitous attack on his client, adding: ‘She has invented this whole incident out of nowhere.’
The newspaper’s defence is that its headline calling Depp a ‘wife beater’ was entirely truthful.
Heard described in graphic detail incidents in which she alleged Depp headbutted, slapped, choked, kicked, threw her around and ripped out clumps of her hair.
Miss Wass painted whisky and cocaine-addled Depp as a woman-hater who beat Heard for trying to curb his Hollywood hellraising and could then scarcely remember his terrifying rampages.
The barrister added that said Depp had ‘spent his entire adult life doing exactly what he wanted and he was not about to answer to a woman at this stage of his life’.
Miss Wass said the Sun’s 2018 headline calling the actor a ‘wife beater’ was true because ‘Mr Depp did indeed beat his wife’.
She said he had ‘glamorised the drug culture surrounded by a clique of ageing male rabble-rousers’ but ‘by the time he was approaching 50, the lifestyle was taking its toll – the drugs were destroying his life.’
She said Heard had loved Depp and tried to save him from his demons, but ‘he grew to hate and resent her’. The QC said Depp’s memory was so impaired by his drink and drugs that he often couldn’t recall his alleged attacks.
Miss Wass said Depp – a ‘selfscripted southern gentleman who required a supplicant wife – pretended he had respect for women but this was ‘entirely untrue’, as he had described women in text messages as ‘sl*ts’ and ‘fat ugly whores’, and branded ex-partner Vanessa Paradis a ‘withering c***’.
She said he attacked actress Miss Heard, whenever he felt ‘threatened’ by her or felt she was ‘nagging’ him.
Miss Wass said Depp’s technique for defending himself was to ‘deploy old-fashioned methods to discredit a woman, namely that she is a gold digger, a shrew and an adulterer’.
The QC said Depp was charming, kind and generous when sober, but booze and drugs triggered a ‘metamorphosis’ that transformed him into his alter ego ‘The Monster’.
She said: ‘Mr Depp’s recollection of his own disgraceful conduct was so severely impaired by drug misuse that he may not have been aware of the extent of his violence and terrifying behaviour which on at least one instance put Miss Heard in fear of her life.’
Miss Wass said Heard had loved Depp and thought she could help him conquer his addictions, adding: ‘It would be trite, outdated and facile to suggest that someone who chooses to remain with a violent partner cannot be a victim of domestic abuse.’
The QC said Depp had claimed he was the victim of an elaborate hoax perpetrated on him by Miss Heard and her friends, and that he was the real victim.
‘Mr Depp has suggested that Miss Heard and her friends have painted on injuries, manipulated photographs and destroyed property,’ she said, adding that for this to be true, it would have had to be a ‘pre-planned conspiracy over her entire relationship with Mr Depp… a suggestion we say is risible’.
The QC said the ‘three-day hostage situation’ in Australia in March 2015 had been one of the most shocking ordeals, in which Heard was allegedly choked, slapped and cut with broken glass before Depp ‘severed his own fingertip’ and scrawled messages on walls with his blood.
‘Mr Depp was angry about the film he was in, he was also angry and jealous that Miss Heard was doing a film with Billy Bob Thornton, and for judging him for taking drink and drugs,’ she said.
In the article, Mr Wootton asked how Harry Potter author JK Rowling could be ‘genuinely happy’ after Depp was cast in the latest film in the Fantastic Beasts spin-off franchise. The role was offered despite the allegations by Heard.
Depp denies ever having been violent to Heard and claims the article included quotes from alleged victims of disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein.
He said these were designed to ‘finish his career’ by linking the allegations against him to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
NGN is defending the article as true and says Depp was ‘controlling and verbally and physically abusive towards Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs’ between early 2013 and May 2016 when the couple split.