Description of Johnny Depp as ‘wife beater’ is accurate, say newspaper lawyers
Video report by Correspondent Juliet Bremner
The description of Johnny Depp as a “wife beater” is “entirely accurate and truthful”, lawyers for News Group Newspapers have told a High Court judge.
But lawyers for the actor told the court he "is not and never has been a wife beater" and his libel action against The Sun newspaper is "not a case about money" but about "vindication."
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 Amber Heard, 34, during their relationship, which he strenuously denies.
A raft of evidence, including photos, audio recordings and the Hollywood star’s own text messages supports the defence that Mr Depp “beat his wife Amber Heard, causing her to suffer significant injury and on occasion leading to her fearing for her life”, they argued.
But in a written opening note at the start of the three-week trial in London, the actor’s lead counsel, David Sherborne, said the Hollywood star has come to court “to clear his reputation”.
His libel action against The Sun newspaper is “not a case about money” but about “vindication”, his lawyers said.
Mr Sherborne also argued that Mr Depp’s ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, has “invented these stories of serious violence” and that she was the “abuser” in the relationship.
In a written opening note at the start of the three-week trial in London – which is being heard by Mr Justice Nicol – Sasha Wass QC, barrister for NGN, said: “The defendants will demonstrate that the description of Mr Depp as a ‘wife beater’ is entirely accurate and truthful.
“They will show that the sting of the articles is correct – namely that the claimant beat his wife Amber Heard, causing her to suffer significant injury and on occasion leading to her fearing for her life.
“This defence is supported by witness testimony, medical evidence, photographs, video, audio recordings, digital evidence and Mr Depp’s own texts.”
In her note Ms Wass described Ms Heard as an “intelligent and independent woman who has developed her own career as an actress”.
She said: “Her independence and self-determination gave rise to a series of conflicts between the two, with Mr Depp seeking to control Ms Heard’s social life and career choices.
“Ms Heard was forging her own way in the acting profession and was not content to play the role of a supplicant consort.
“As a result of her having her own career, disputes between the two increasingly arose where Ms Heard’s professional life clashed with Mr Depp’s desire to dominate the relationship.
“These conflicts manifested themselves in arguments where Mr Depp became abusive and aggressively jealous, on occasion falsely accusing Ms Heard of having sexual relationships with her co-stars.
“Matters were not helped by the generational difference between Ms Heard and Mr Depp which fuelled Mr Depp’s insecurity.
“This exacerbated his well-documented dependence and excessive abuse of alcohol and controlled drugs which dated back to Mr Depp’s time as a young man.”
Mr Depp was asked by Ms Wass if it was true that he “found drugs and alcohol” early in his life, which Mr Depp agreed with.
The actor explained how he began taking drugs in his youth “at a very young age, when it was not a particularly stable or secure or safe home life, and there was quite a lot of unpleasantness in the house”.
The barrister suggested that Mr Depp’s fame and wealth had given him “a lot of freedom”, to which he replied that “the other side of that coin you are, in a way, forced to live a life of a fugitive”.
“Anonymity doesn’t exist anymore anywhere,” he explained.
During the morning cross-examination session, which lasted around two hours, Ms Wass argued that there was a “nasty” side to Mr Depp’s character, later suggesting he “regularly engaged in destructive and violent behaviour”, which the actor denied.
The court is expected to hear evidence by video link from Mr Depp’s former partners, actresses 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.
The trial, due to last three weeks, was originally due to start in March but was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and is now going to occupy five courtrooms to ensure social distancing.