Johnny Depp may launch appeal over ‘perverse’ ruling he assaulted Amber Heard

Tom Butler
·Senior Editor
·5-min read

Watch: Johnny Depp’s lawyers issue statement following court ruling

Johnny Depp may appeal against a “perverse and bewildering” High Court ruling that concluded he assaulted ex-wife Amber Heard.

The 57-year-old sued The Sun’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN) over a 2018 article that labelled him a “wife beater”.

The Hollywood star brought legal action over the column, by the newspaper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, which referred to “overwhelming evidence” that the actor attacked Ms Heard, 34, during their relationship.

In a ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the Pirates Of The Caribbean star’s claim, saying NGN had proved what was in the article to be “substantially true”.

He found that Mr Depp assaulted Ms Heard on a dozen occasions, putting her in “fear for her life” during three of them.

Read more: Timeline of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s relationship

In a statement after the ruling, Mr Depp’s solicitor Jenny Afia, from Schillings law firm, said: “This decision is as perverse as it is bewildering.

Photo by: KGC-42/STAR MAX/IPx 2019 10/11/15 Amber Heard and Johnny Depp at the premiere of "Black Mass". (London, England, UK)
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp at the premiere of Black Mass. (KGC-42/STAR MAX/IPx 2019 10/11/15)

“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. The judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision.”

In the ruling, Mr Justice Nicol said: “I have found that the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms Heard by Mr Depp have been proved to the civil standard.”

The judge said he was “not persuaded” that an alleged “incident of violence” in Los Angeles in December 2014 “constituted a physical assault of Ms Heard by Mr Depp”.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 02: Johnny Depp speaks at the ZFF Masters during the 16th Zurich Film Festival at Arena on October 02, 2020 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images for ZFF)
Johnny Depp speaks at the ZFF Masters during the 16th Zurich Film Festival at Arena on October 2, 2020. (Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images for ZFF)

He also said he could not rule that an alleged incident in LA in November 2015 had been proven because it was not put to Mr Depp in cross-examination.

However, he found that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence relied on by NGN did occur.

The judge found that Mr Depp put Ms Heard “in fear of her life” during what the actress described as a “three-day hostage situation” in Australia in March 2015.

He also said he accepted that a further “confidential” allegation made against Mr Depp regarding the incident in Australia had happened.

Mr Justice Nicol found that Ms Heard was in fear for her life during incidents on the Eastern and Oriental Express in South East Asia in August 2015 and again in LA in December of the same year.

The judge also said “a recurring theme in Mr Depp’s evidence was that Ms Heard had constructed a hoax and that she had done this as an ‘insurance policy’”, and that Ms Heard was a “gold-digger”.

But he added: “I do not accept this characterisation of Ms Heard.”

American actress Amber Heard, former wife of actor Johnny Depp, center, gives a statement after the end of the trial outside the High Court in London, Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Hollywood actor Johnny Depp is suing News Group Newspapers over a story about his former wife Amber Heard, published in The Sun in 2018 which branded him a 'wife beater', a claim he denies. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Amber Heard, center, gives a statement after the end of the trial outside the High Court in London on July 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

The judge also said that Ms Heard donating her $7m (£5.4m) settlement to charity was “hardly the act one would expect of a gold-digger”.

The biggest English libel trial of the 21st century garnered worldwide attention as it unfolded over three weeks in July at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Mr Depp and Ms Heard both attended the 16-day trial, which featured days of high drama, claims of brutal violence and sensational revelations about their tempestuous relationship.

Read more: Amber Heard details horrific abuse claims against Johnny Depp

The court heard evidence from both stars, along with friends and relatives of the couple, and several former and current employees.

Mr Depp spent around 20 hours in the witness box over five days, facing intense questioning about his Hollywood lifestyle, his use of drink and drugs, allegations of violence, and his friendships and associations with famous faces including Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and musician Sir Elton John.

As the trial drew to a close, Ms Heard stood outside on the steps of the High Court and said she stood by her evidence and would “place her faith in British justice”.

Watch: Amber Heard speaks after the court case

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

Mr Depp denied having been violent to Ms Heard, and claimed 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 defended the article as true and said 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.

After the ruling, a spokesman 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.”

Copies of The Sun newspaper are displayed at a kiosk in London February 13, 2012.  Rupert Murdoch is under pressure over his Sun tabloid after the arrests of several senior staff in a corruption probe, but whistleblowers inside his media empire may pose more of a threat than the public outrage that forced the closure of its sister paper, News of the World weekly, after allegations of phone hacking.  REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (BRITAIN - Tags: MEDIA CRIME LAW SOCIETY)
The Sun newspaper at a London kiosk. (Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly)

Ms Heard’s US lawyer Elaine Charlson Bredehoft said the actress’s legal team will be presenting more evidence in Mr Depp’s separate libel action in Virginia against Ms Heard over a Washington Post opinion piece.

Ms Bredehoft said: “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.”

It is believed the total legal costs of the case will be in the region of £3m to £5m.