Johnny Depp is one week into his libel case against the Sun newspaper which commenced on the 7 July 2020 and is expected to take three weeks. He is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN) and the Sun’s executive editor, Dan Wotton, over an article published in April 2018 that referred to him as a ‘wife beater’. The news groups primary witness is Depp’s ex-wife, Amber Heard, who made the allegations of domestic violence. Depp is claiming that the article is defamatory as it is false and fictitious and has caused his reputation ‘serious harm’ as stated in the Defamation Act 2013. The news group is using the defence of truth, claiming it has evidence of domestic violence, with Heard being their key witness. Depp is being represented by the barrister David Sherborne whilst the news groups representation is by Adam Wolanski QC. Depp is also pursuing Heard in a separate defamation case in the United States of America.
On the opening day of the case Depp’s lawyers told the court that the allegations were ‘complete lies’ that amounted to a ‘full-scale attack’ on Depp. Recordings of arguments will ‘undermine’ the ‘case against Mr Depp.’ They even claimed that Heard had punched Depp in the face, which she denies. The news group claims it has ‘overwhelming evidence’ that Depp attacked Heard during their marriage.
The court heard a transcript of an argument from September 2015, which Heard alleged had followed a physical assault by Johnny Depp. Amber Heard’s witness statement claimed that Depp got ‘Physically violent’ with her but in the transcript, Depp accused Heard of punching him ‘in the face, with a closed fist.’ Heard rebutted the claims and said, ‘it was a slap, not a punch’.
Amber Heard’s legal team said there had been a ‘series of conflicts between the two, with Depp seeking to control Heard’s social life and career choices.’ Depp and Heard met in 2009 and were married in 2015. Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp in 2016 after their break-up. She donated her £5.6 million divorce settlement to charities that work with abused women. Her lawyers presented evidence to the court that they claim exposed that Depp had an ‘anger problem’ influenced by his ‘drug and alcohol addiction’. Depp admitted to using drugs on several occasions and that he had spent more than $30,000 a month on wine, particularly red wine.
After being accused Depp admitted to ‘trashing’ a New York hotel room in 1994 which cost him $9,767 in damages. He denied claims that it was due to an anger problem as his anger on that occasion derived from a ‘bad couple of days’ with that day and evening being the ‘apex of an unpleasant time.’ A witness statement from Ellen Barkin claimed that Depp threw a wine bottle at assistants on the set of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in 1998 and that Depp always had ‘an air of violence around him.’ Depp denied these claims saying, ‘that incident never happened.’ Ellen Barkin is an ex-girlfriend that held a ‘grudge’ after they spilt on bad terms.
A video recorded from February 2016, which shows Depp rifling through kitchen cupboards, smashing items and shouting has been shown in court. He is also seen pouring a ‘pint of red wine’. Depp denied that it portrayed him as violent as he was only ‘violent with some cupboards.’
Depp’s lawyers claimed Amber Heard tricked him into marriage by faking interests in his hobbies and films. She had an ‘agenda’ to ‘progress her own career and /or to benefit financially.’ Depp talked about his difficult childhood as a reasoning for his drink and drug use. Depp said the abuse he was exposed to as a child turned him against violence, ‘I try to avoid confrontation. Violence is not something I go looking for’ but there is a point when being attacked that ‘I have to get myself out of a corner.’
On the third day of the case Depp admitted to ‘accidentally’ headbutting Heard during an altercation, where he claimed to be attempting to ‘stop her flailing and punching’ him. The altercation happened in December 2015. Photographs appear to show Heard with the ‘beginning of two black eyes’ whilst Heard’s medical notes stated she had said Depp ‘used his forehead to hit her head’ during a ‘verbal disagreement’. Depp claimed the injury ‘she suffered is not consistent with the photograph’. He said that he tried to get his ‘arms around her to stop her from getting her arms around’ him. In doing so there was a ‘head to head’ ‘collision’ and ‘no intentional headbutt’. Depp also claimed that photographs of their upturned apartment were orchestrated by Amber Heard, as part of and ‘insurance policy for when we did break up’.
The court has been told about an incident where Depp allegedly caused $150,000 worth of damage to their apartment, during which Depp wrote on a mirror using blood from his own finger. Depp claimed that the top of his finger was cut off by a vodka bottle thrown at him by Heard. Depp also claimed that Heard withheld medication prescribed to him during an alcohol and drug detox which left him crying ‘like a child’.
The trial has continued to go back and forth with both Johnny Depp and Amber Heard making and denying violent allegations against each other. The newsgroup are attempting to portray Depp as a man who regularly loses his temper. For the defence of truth, the newsgroup does not need to prove every detail, as minor inaccuracies will not prevent the defence applying if it is substantially true. It may not be enough for Depp’s legal team to appear to justify Johnny Depp’s actions with Amber Heard’s actions, as easy as it is to sympathise with. For Depp to win, more may need to be done to discredit the news groups key witness, to such an extent that Heard appears to be a compulsive liar, to show that the alleged defamatory article is based on complete lies.