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US actor Johnny Depp is seen arriving at the High Court in London in July during his libel trial against News Group Newspapers. Photo: AFP

Johnny Depp loses UK libel suit against The Sun over ‘wife-beater’ story

  • Lawyers for the Hollywood actor, who starred in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and Edward Scissorhands, said the decision was ‘perverse’
  • The judge found allegations that Depp had been violent towards his ex-wife Amber Heard were ‘substantially true’ and she must have feared for her life
Hollywood star Johnny Depp on Monday lost his libel battle with a British tabloid which labelled him a “ wife beater” after a London High Court judge ruled that the paper’s allegations were “substantially true”.

In a ruling that could severely damage his reputation and career, Judge Andrew Nicol said he accepted claims by Depp’s ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, that he had violently assaulted her on numerous occasions during their tempestuous five-year relationship.

“I have found that the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms Heard by Mr Depp have been proved to the civil standard,” said Nicol.

“The claimant has not succeeded in his action for libel,” Nicol said in dismissing the claim.

Five stand-out revelations from Johnny Depp’s blockbuster libel trial

Depp, 57, the star of films such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Edward Scissorhands, had sued News Group Newspapers, publishers of The Sun, and one of its journalists, Dan Wootton, over a 2018 article which stated he had been violent towards Heard, 34.

The newspaper also questioned his casting in the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them movie franchise.

Over the course of three weeks at London’s Old Bailey in July, Judge Andrew Nicol heard evidence from both Depp and Heard about their fiery marriage, alleged affairs, his hedonistic lifestyle and battle with drink and drugs, and their furious rows. Both accused the other of violent outbursts.

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, headbutted, throttled and kicked her.

Nicol said he accepted 12 of these accounts were true, including her description of a three-day ordeal of “sustained and multiple assaults” while they were in Australia.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are seen in September 2015. Photo: AFP

“It is a sign of the depth of his rage that he admitted scrawling graffiti in blood from his injured finger and then, when that was insufficient, dipping his badly injured finger in paint and continuing to write messages and other things,” Nicol said.

“They must have been terrifying. I accept that Mr Depp put her in fear of her life.”

The couple met while making The Rum Diary in 2011 and married four years later, but divorced in 2016.

Amber Heard testifies she was afraid ex-husband Johnny Depp was going to kill her

Depp had told the court he was never violent towards his ex-wife, saying her claims were a hoax and that he had lost the tip of a finger after she threw a vodka bottle at him during one particularly ferocious row in Australia.

Nicol rejected his version of how he lost the finger, as well as Depp’s characterisation of Heard as a gold-digger and his allegation that her claims were a hoax.

American actress Amber Heard is seen outside the High Court in London in July. Photo: AP

“For those of us present for the London High Court trial, this decision and judgment are not a surprise,” Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, Heard’s US lawyer, said in a statement.

“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.”

Depp has also filed a US$50 million defamation lawsuit against Heard in a Virginia court over an opinion piece she wrote in The Washington Post.

The judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision.
Depp’s lawyers

Depp’s lawyers on Monday criticised the judge’s decision to reject the libel claim.

“This decision is as perverse as it is bewildering,” Depp’s British law firm Schillings said. “The judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision,” the statement said.

“In the meantime, we hope that in contrast to this case, the ongoing libel proceedings in America are equitable, with both parties providing full disclosure rather than one side strategically cherry-picking what evidence can and cannot be relied upon.”

Depp accuses Amber Heard of hitting him with ‘haymaker’ punch during quarrel

The Sun said the ruling was a “stunning victory” for press freedom.

“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,” The Sun said in a statement.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Depp loses ‘wife beater’ libel case against tabloid