Johnny Depp’s libel case against a British tabloid that accused him of abusing ex-wife Amber Heard is wrapping up after three weeks of court hearings that dissected a toxic celebrity love affair.
The “Pirates of the Caribbean” star is suing News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and the newspaper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, at the High Court in London over an April 2018 article that called him a “wife-beater.” He strongly denies being violent to Heard and says her claims are a “hoax.”
Depp’s lawyer, David Sherborne, is due to make his closing arguments that will last most of the day. Then judge Andrew Nicol will retire to sift claim and counterclaim as he considers his verdict. He is expected to hand down his ruling in several weeks.
Neither Depp nor Heard is on trial, though it has been easy to forget that during a case that raked over messy details of the couple’s volatile relationship.
To defeat Depp’s libel claim, the newspaper must persuade the judge that, on the balance of probabilities, its story was accurate.
NGN’s lawyer, Sasha Wass, said in her summing-up that there was no doubt Depp “regularly and systematically abused his wife” and so the “wife-beater” label was accurate.
The two sides agree that the relationship between Depp and Heard, which began after they met on the set of 2011 comedy “The Rum Diary,” soured long before they divorced in 2017. Texts, emails and recordings attest to the increasingly bitter relations between Depp, now 57, and the 34-year-old model and actress.
But they disagree completely over who started and escalated their fights.
Depp denies Heard’s claim of 14 separate incidents in which he allegedly hit, slapped and shoved her, pulled her hair and threw bottles at her “like grenades.” The judge was shown photos of Heard with black eyes, red marks on her face and an injured scalp – all evidence of Depp’s violence, the defence said.
Depp said the photos were part of a “dossier” of fake evidence and claimed that Heard hit him, even severing the tip of his finger during one fracas in Australia. Under cross-examination Depp admitted headbutting Heard once during a tussle, but said it was by accident as he tried to stop her punching him.
Heard acknowledged having a short temper and said she punched Depp once in March 2015. But she said it was to prevent him hitting her sister.
The trial has provided an up-close and often unflattering look at Hollywood stardom, revealing details of Depp’s life of wealth, luxury, emotional turmoil and substance abuse.
Depp said in the witness box that he had made $650 million since he joined the lucrative “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise – and ended up $100 million in debt after his financial advisers neglected to pay his taxes for 17 years. Friends described Depp as a generous big spender, and he said he’d spent $5 million sending the ashes of his literary hero, drug-fuelled journalist Hunter S. Thompson, into space.
Whichever spouse was to blame, the relationship left a trail of destruction. Damage to a rented house in Australia where the couple had an altercation was estimated at more than $100,000. The couple’s downtown L.A. penthouse was trashed during another argument.
The low point of the relationship, according to Depp, came when a person or animal defecated in a bed at the penthouse. Heard blamed one of the couple’s two Yorkshire terriers, but Depp suspected Heard or one of her friends was to blame.
Depp is also suing Heard for $50 million in Virginia over a Washington Post story about domestic violence. The trial is due to be held next year.