Johnny Depp has lost a defamation case against the publisher of British tabloid newspaper The Sun over a 2018 article that claimed the Hollywood actor was violent towards his ex-wife Amber Heard, describing him as a “wife beater”.
In a ruling by the UK’s High Court, Justice Andrew Nicol said he accepted Amber Heard’s claims that Depp had been violent towards her through the course of their relationship, and that The Sun’s commentary around Depp was “substantially true”.
“The claimant has not succeeded in his action for libel …” Justice Nicol ruled.
“I have found that the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms Heard by Mr Depp have been proved to the civil standard.
“The defendants have shown that what they published in the meaning which I have held the words to bear was substantially true.”
During a three-week hearing at the High Court in London, both Depp and Heard gave evidence, revealing details of their relationship, with both parties claiming the other had been abusive.
Heard spoke about 14 occasions of violence and abuse, where she said Depp had choked, slapped, punched and head-butted her. Judge Nicol said he accepted that 12 of these 14 incidents were true.
Heard alleged she had been a victim of abuse while they were in Australia in 2015, describing an incident at the Gold Coast as a “three-day hostage situation”.
Justice Nicol said she while he did not believe Heard had been held there against her will by Depp, he accepted that Heard was a victim of a series of assaults while in Australia, and would have feared for her life.
“Taking all the evidence together, I accept that she was the victim of sustained and multiple assaults by Mr Depp in Australia. 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.
“I accept her evidence of the nature of the assaults he committed against her. They must have been terrifying. I accept that Mr Depp put her in fear of her life.”
Throughout the hearing, Depp maintained that he had not been violent towards Heard and characterised her as a “gold digger”.
Justice Nicol rejected this characterisation of Heard, saying “Her donation of … $7m to charity is hardly the act one would expect of a gold-digger”.
News Group Newspapers, the publisher of The Sun, was required to prove that their claims about Depp were “substantially accurate on the balance of probabilities”.
Justice Nicole concluded that he did not regard The Sun‘s “inability to make good these allegations [in the other two incidents] as of importance in determining whether they have established the substantial truth of the words that they published.”
After the ruling against Depp, the publisher released a statement that 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.”
Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, Heard’s lawyer, released a statement saying, “For those of us present for the London High Court trial, this decision and judgment are not a surprise.”
“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’s lawyers said the ruling was “bewildering”.
“This decision is as perverse as it is bewildering,” the lawyers said in a statement. “The judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision.”
“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.”
In the US, Depp has filed a defamation lawsuit against Heard, over an article published in The Washington Post, which she wrote in 2018. The article had the headline, “Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”