Johnny Depp, Amber Heard libel case: Judge rules against Depp

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Johnny Depp arrived at Britain’s High Court on Tuesday to attend a hearing of his claim against The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers over a story alleging he was abusive to his ex-wife Amber Heard.

AP Entertainment

A 2018 article in British tabloid The Sun that branded Johnny Depp a “wife beater” was not libelous, a judge ruled Monday morning. 

British judge Andrew Nicol delivered his verdict in writing without a hearing – due to the coronavirus – at the High Court in London, dismissing Depp’s complaint against The Sun.  

“The Claimant has not succeeded in his action for libel,” read a court summary released Monday to USA TODAY. “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.”

In July, Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard had a dramatic three-week legal showdown that exposed ugly accusations of verbal and physical assault, drug and alcohol abuse and tumultuous private life for the celebrity couple, who met on the set of 2011 comedy “The Rum Diary,” married in Los Angeles in 2015, separated the following year and divorced in 2017.

Depp sued The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, and Executive Editor Dan Wootton over a 2018 article claiming the actor was a “wife beater” to Heard without preceding the label with words like “alleged” or “accused.”  

He strongly denied all of Heard’s allegations, countering that she was the abuser in their relationship. Their marriage, Depp told Heard several times, was “a crime scene waiting to happen,” he testified.

Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard: All the nasty bits of the UK trial — and it’s all nasty

Actor Johnny Depp sued a tabloid newspaper that accused him of abusing Amber Heard when they were married. (Photo: Matt Dunham, AP)

During closing arguments in July, Depp’s lawyer, David Sherborne, said the actor strongly denied “this reputation-destroying, career-ending allegation, which urged J.K. Rowling to have Depp fired from the movie version of her book ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them,'” gave the false impression Depp had been “tried, convicted and sentenced” for domestic violence, and compared him to former film mogul and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein.

“He has never hit a woman in his entire life — period, full stop, nada,” Sherborne said.

NGN’s lawyer, Sasha Wass, said at the time there was no doubt Depp “regularly and systematically abused his wife” and so the “wife beater” label was justified.

After serving as The Sun’s main witness, Heard made a statement on the courthouse steps before a crowd of reporters and onlookers, according to a video posted by The Telegraph newspaper on YouTube. Heard said she stood by her testimony and preferred to “move on with my life” after her divorce from Depp in 2017. 

“I did not file this lawsuit and despite its significance, I would have preferred not to be here in court,” she said. “It has been incredibly painful to relive the breakup of my relationship and to have my motives and my truth questioned and the most traumatic and intimate details of my life with Johnny shared in court and broadcast to entire world.”

The judge’s ruling Monday may have implications for another legal battle Depp has filed, this one a $50 million defamation lawsuit in Virginia against Heard over a 2018 column she wrote for The Washington Post, in which she called herself a victim of domestic abuse while alluding to her relationship with Depp without referring to him by name. The trial is scheduled for next May.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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