Johnny Depp loses libel case over ‘wife beater’ article
Court heard intimate detail about actor’s marriage to Amber Heard during action against ‘the Sun’
A file image of Johnny Depp arriving for day nine of his libel trial against News Group Newspapers (NGN) at the High Court in London in July. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images.
Amber Heard arriving at court during a libel trial by her former husband, US actor Johnny Depp against News Group Newspapers (NGN) at the High Court in London. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images.
Actor Johnny Depp has lost his libel battle with a British tabloid newspaper which labelled him a “wife beater”.
The 57-year-old, known for roles in films such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Edward Scissorhands, sued News Group Newspapers (NGN), publishers of the Sun, and one of its journalists, Dan Wootton, over a 2018 article which stated he had been violent towards his ex-wife, actor Amber Heard (34).
Over the course of three weeks at London’s Old Bailey in July, Mr Justice Andrew Nicol heard evidence from Depp and Heard about their tempestuous marriage, alleged affairs, his hedonistic lifestyle and battle with drink and drugs, and their furious rows. Both accused the other of violent outbursts.
In his ruling on Monday, the judge dismissed Depp’s claim, saying NGN had proved what was in the article to be “substantially true”.
“The claimant has not succeeded in his action for libel. “Although he has proved the necessary elements of his cause of action in libel, the defendants have shown that what they published in the meaning which I have held the words to bear was substantially true,” he found.
“I have reached these conclusions having examined in detail the 14 incidents on which the defendants rely as well as the overarching considerations which the claimant submitted I should take into account.”
Depp and Heard met while making The Rum Diary in 2011 and married four years later, but divorced in 2016. Depp told the court he was never violent towards his ex-wife, saying he had lost the tip of a finger after she threw a vodka bottle at him during one particular ferocious row in Australia.
Meanwhile, 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 said. Heard detailed 14 occasions of extreme violence when she said the actor choked, punched, slapped, head-butted, throttled and kicked her.
Amid the sometimes shocking evidence were the bizarre allegations that Heard had defecated in their bed and that Depp had dangled one of her dogs out of a moving car window.
Although the case was between Depp and the paper, it put their relationship on trial, and the judge was, in effect, asked to decide who was telling the truth.
He claimed the article included quotes from alleged victims of disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein in order to “finish his career” by linking the allegations against him to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
Depp stood to be awarded a sum of between £300,000 and £325,000 if the article was found to be substantially untrue, while his lawyers also argued he that he should receive aggravated damages.
The legal bills, which the losing party might be forced to pick up, are also expected to run into the millions, although the costs are likely to go far beyond the immediate case.
The couple’s bitter fallout is set to continue as Depp has also filed a $50 million (€42.9 million) defamation lawsuit against Heard in a Virginia court over an opinion piece she wrote in The Washington Post.
In a statement, Heard’s US lawyer Elaine Charlson Bredehoft said the legal team will be presenting more evidence in the Virginia action.
“For those of us present for the London High Court trial, this decision and judgment are not a surprise,” she said.
“Very soon, we will be presenting even more voluminous evidence in the US...We are committed to obtaining justice for Amber Heard in the US court and defending Ms Heard’s right to free speech.”
A spokesperson for The Sun said: “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.” - PA/Reuters