Johnny Depp’s libel trial against The Sun set to begin

Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard are expected to meet at the High Court in England as the Hollywood star’s libel case against The Sun over allegations of domestic violence kicks off on Tuesday.

The 57-year-old actor is suing the tabloid’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN) over an article which called him a “wife beater” and referred to “overwhelming evidence” he attacked Ms Heard, 34, during their relationship, which he strenuously denies.

In an April 2018 column, The Sun’s executive editor Dan Wootton asked how Harry Potter author JK Rowling could be “genuinely happy” Mr Depp had been cast in the latest film in the Fantastic Beasts spin-off franchise despite the allegations by Ms Heard.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Amber Heard alleges that Johnny Depp was violent towards her during their marriage (Anthony Devlin/PA)</figcaption>
Amber Heard alleges that Johnny Depp was violent towards her during their marriage (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The Pirates Of The Caribbean star denies ever having been violent to Ms Heard, and claims the article included quotes from alleged victims of disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein in order 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 Mr Depp was “controlling and verbally and physically abusive towards Ms Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs” between early 2013 and May 2016, when the couple split.

The publisher relies on 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence, including what Ms Heard describes as a “three-day hostage situation” in Australia in March 2015 when Mr Depp lost the tip of his middle finger in disputed circumstances.

The estranged pair are both expected to attend the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday morning for the start of a three-week trial after Mr Depp failed in a last-minute bid to stop his ex-wife attending the trial until she is called to give evidence.

The court is expected to hear evidence by videolink from Mr Depp’s former partners Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder, who both say he was never violent to them, as well as Ms Heard’s friends who claim they were present when Mr Depp was abusive.

Ms Heard’s former assistant Kate James, who claims she was asked to lie to the Australian authorities over the couple bringing their dogs into the country illegally in 2015, is also among the witnesses due to give evidence.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Amber Heard and Johnny Depp married in Los Angeles in February 2015 (Jonathan Brady/PA)</figcaption>
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp married in Los Angeles in February 2015 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mr Depp’s case was almost thrown out of court last week after NGN’s lawyers said they were not given texts between him and his assistant Nathan Holmes, which apparently showed the star asking for “happy pills” and “whitey stuff”, shortly before the 2015 trip to Australia.

The trial judge, Mr Justice Nicol, ruled Mr Depp was in breach of a court order to provide documents which have been disclosed in separate libel proceedings against Ms Heard in the US, but said the case should still go ahead.

The High Court has previously heard around 70,000 of Mr Depp’s texts were accidentally sent to NGN by his former lawyers, which included messages sent to actor Paul Bettany in November 2013 in which Mr Depp wrote: “Let’s burn Amber.”

He also said: “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will f**k her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead.”

Another text sent by Mr Depp – to his friend Christian Carino on August 15 2016, around the time he and Ms Heard broke up – said Ms Heard was “begging for global humiliation” and that she was “going to get it”.

The message added: “I have no mercy, no fear and not an ounce of emotion or what I thought was love for this gold-digging, low-level, dime-a-dozen, mushy, pointless, dangling, overused flappy fish market.”

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Johnny Depp’s former partner Winona Ryder is expected to give evidence (Yui Mok/PA)</figcaption>
Johnny Depp’s former partner Winona Ryder is expected to give evidence (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Depp’s lawyers claim Ms Heard was conducting “two extra-martial affairs” – with SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk and actor James Franco – at the time of the alleged abuse and say secret recordings of the couple’s conversations show she was “the aggressor” of the pair.

The trial was originally due to start in March but was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and is now going to occupy five courtrooms, with the lawyers and judge “in court”, journalists in another courtroom and members of the public in three others to ensure social distancing.

The actor’s case against NGN and Mr Wootton arises out of the publication of an article on The Sun’s website on April 27 2018 with the headline “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

The words “wife beater” were removed from the headline the following morning and were not used in the print edition, but Mr Depp says the article still caused “serious harm to his personal and professional reputation” and “significant distress and embarrassment”.

Mr Depp’s libel claim against Ms Heard in Virginia – over a December 2018 column in the Washington Post which said the actress received “the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out”, but did not mention Mr Depp by name – is due to begin next January.

The pair met on the set of 2011 comedy-drama The Rum Diary – based on a novel by Mr Depp’s friend, Hunter S Thompson, who he played in the 1998 film Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas – and began living together in 2012 before marrying in Los Angeles in February 2015.

Ms Heard obtained a restraining order against Mr Depp in LA shortly after the couple split in 2016 and donated her seven million US dollars divorce settlement to charity.

Key players in Johnny Depp libel claim

Here are some of the key people in the trial of Johnny Depp’s libel claim against The Sun newspaper:

– Johnny Depp

Mr Depp has been on the Hollywood A-list for more than 30 years, becoming a household name for such characters as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates Of The Caribbean and Edward Scissorhands.

The 57-year-old was in a relationship with French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis for around 14 years, and the couple have two children together.

He had previously dated model Kate Moss and actress Winona Ryder.

Mr Depp married model Amber Heard in February 2015.

They separated just over a year later.

He has gained a reputation for his versatile acting over the years and has been nominated for a number of awards, including the Oscar for Best Actor on three occasions.

– Amber Heard

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Amber Heard is a Texan actress and model (Anthony Devlin/PA)</figcaption>
Amber Heard is a Texan actress and model (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Born and raised in Texas, Ms Heard is an actress and model.

Her early roles included an appearance in the comedy Pineapple Express, and more recently she has played Mera in Justice League and Aquaman.

She also appeared in Magic Mike XXL.

Ms Heard, 34, also starred opposite Depp in 2011’s The Rum Diary.

Ms Heard is the key witness for the defence.

– Vanessa Paradis

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Vanessa Paradis was in a relationship with Johnny Depp for around 14 years. (Ian West/PA Archive/PA Images)</figcaption>
Vanessa Paradis was in a relationship with Johnny Depp for around 14 years. (Ian West/PA Archive/PA Images)

Vanessa Paradis is a French singer, actress and model who shot to fame aged just 14 with the song Joe Le Taxi.

She has been a spokesmodel for Chanel for many years and appeared in a number of films, alongside continuing her singing career.

Ms Paradis, 47, was in a relationship with Mr Depp for around 14 years from around 1998.

The couple’s daughter, Lily-Rose, is also now pursuing a career as an actress.

Ms Paradis is due to give evidence at the trial, having given a witness statement in which she described her former partner as a “kind, attentive, generous and non-violent person and father”.

– Winona Ryder

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Winona Ryder dated Johnny Depp in the early 1990s (Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images)</figcaption>
Winona Ryder dated Johnny Depp in the early 1990s (Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images)

Winona Ryder is also due to give evidence at the High Court trial as part of his case against News Group Newspapers (NGN).

Ms Ryder was in a relationship with Mr Depp during the early 1990s, and the pair appeared together in Edward Scissorhands.

Mr Depp famously tattooed Winona Forever on his arm.

After the couple split, he reportedly changed it to Wino Forever.

– Dan Wootton

New Zealand-born Dan Wootton has been The Sun’s Executive Editor since March 2018.

The article at the heart of Johnny Depp’s libel claim was written by Mr Wootton for his weekly column in the newspaper.

Mr Wootton also presents the weekday Drivetime show on talkRadio and has his own podcast – The Dan Wootton Interview.

A showbiz reporter for many years, before joining The Sun, Mr Wootton had stints at a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Daily Mail, where he also worked as a columnist, and the now defunct News Of The World, where he was Showbiz Editor.

He was also showbiz presenter for ITV’s Lorraine show for 10 years.

– David Sherborne

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Barrister David Sherborne, is lead counsel for Johnny Depp (Andrew Matthews/PA Archive/PA Images)</figcaption>
Barrister David Sherborne, is lead counsel for Johnny Depp (Andrew Matthews/PA Archive/PA Images)

As lead counsel for Johnny Depp, David Sherborne will take centre stage at the High Court in the coming weeks.

Mr Sherborne has a growing reputation as the barrister the rich and famous turn to for legal assistance – his current client list also includes Meghan Markle, who he is representing in her privacy action against Associated Newspapers.

He has also represented dozens of claimants, including celebrities, suing New Group Newspapers (NGN) over phone hacking at the News Of The World.

– Adam Wolanski QC

Mr Wolanski is no stranger to high profile trials.

In 2018, he was junior counsel for Cliff Richard in his privacy claim against the BBC.

He also represented The Sun in Labour MP Richard Burgon’s libel claim against the newspaper.

Mr Wolanski, who took silk in 2019, is a specialist in media law.