Judge Andrew Nicol has ruled against Johnny Depp in the actor’s libel case against News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the tabloid’s executive editor Dan Wootton over a 2018 article alleging he was a “wife beater.” Depp’s lawyers said it is highly likely he will appeal against the ruling.
In his conclusion, the judge wrote: “The claimant [Depp] 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 added: “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.”
The judgment (which can be read in full here) follows a three-week hearing in July at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, during which lurid allegations were made by each side concerning the torrid relationship between the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star and his former spouse, “Aquaman” actor Amber Heard.
Both Depp and Heard attended the hearing and also gave evidence. Other witnesses included friends of the two actors, and their present and former employees. Multiple and lengthy witness statements were also submitted, including those from Depp’s former partners Winona Ryder and Vanessa Paradis.
In English law, it is up to the defendant in defamation cases to prove their allegations are true, giving the claimant an advantage. The Rupert Murdoch-owned News Group Newspapers relied on 14 allegations of domestic violence allegedly committed by Depp against Heard, which he described as “a choreographed hoax.” His legal team alleged that she was the real abuser in their relationship.
The offending article was published in The Sun on April 27, 2018, with the headline: “Gone Potty: How Can J.K. Rowling Be ‘Genuinely Happy’ Casting Wife Beater Johnny Depp in the New Fantastic Beasts Film?”
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.”
In a statement, Jenny Afia of law firm Schillings, which represented Depp in the case, said: “This decision is as perverse as it is bewildering. Most troubling is the judge’s reliance on the testimony of Amber Heard, and corresponding disregard of the mountain of counter-evidence from police officers, medical practitioners, her own former assistant, other unchallenged witnesses and an array of documentary evidence which completely undermined the allegations, point by point. All of this was overlooked.”
Attention now shifts to a separate $50 million defamation case Depp brought against Heard over an opinion piece she wrote in The Washington Post in December 2018. That trial will not take place until May 2021 at the earliest due to coronavirus.
Depp is also almost certain to appeal the London judge’s ruling, said his London law firm in its statement.
Afia said: “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.”
Heard’s U.S. lawyer Elaine Charlson Bredehoft said in a statement: “For those of us present for the London High Court trial, this decision and judgment are not a surprise.”
She added: “Very soon, we will be presenting even more voluminous evidence in the U.S. We are committed to obtaining justice for Amber Heard in the U.S. court and defending Ms. Heard’s right to free speech.”