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Johnny Depp loses libel case against Sun publisher

The actor sued News Group Newspapers over a 2018 article which labelled him a “wife beater”.

Johnny Depp outside court (file photo).
Johnny Depp outside court (file photo).
Image: PA Images

Updated Nov 2nd 2020, 10:11 AM

JOHNNY DEPP HAS lost his blockbuster libel case against the Sun newspaper over an article which labelled him a “wife beater”.

The Pirates of the Caribbean star sued the tabloid’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN) and its executive editor Dan Wootton over the 2018 article, which alleged he was violent to ex-wife Amber Heard during their relationship.

In a ruling today, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the Pirates Of The Caribbean star’s claim, saying the Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN), had proved what was in the article to be “substantially true”.

The judge said: “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.

“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 trial of his libel claim garnered worldwide attention as it unfolded over three weeks in July at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Both Depp (57) and Heard (34) attended the trial, which featured days of high drama, claims of brutal violence and sensational revelations about their tempestuous relationship.

The court heard evidence over 16 days from both stars, friends and relatives of the couple and several former and current employees.

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.

“When I say he has lost everything, to him obviously everything is his reputation. This is not about money, this is vindicating him.”

Sasha Wass QC, for NGN, argued there is “no doubt that Mr Depp regularly and systematically abused his wife.

“The characterisation that he is a wife-beater is entirely truthful.”

2.54771225 File photo of Amber Heard and her lawyer Jen Robinson (right) outside court. Source: Victoria Jones/PA Images

As the trial drew to a close, Heard stood outside on the steps of the High Court and said she stood by her evidence and would “place her faith in British justice”.

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In an April 2018 column, The Sun’s executive editor Dan 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 Meard 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.

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.”

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