Johnny Depp lawyers vow to appeal 'wife beater' libel case decision, branding it 'bewildering'

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Sally Biddulph

Lawyers for Johnny Depp have said he intends to appeal against the ruling in his blockbuster libel case, that concluded the actor assaulted his ex-wife Amber Heard on a dozen occasions.

The actor lost his blockbuster libel case against The Sun newspaper over an article which labelled him a "wife beater," after the judge found 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence did occur.

But lawyers for the Pirates of The Caribbean star described the decision "as perverse as it is bewildering", describing the judgement as "so flawed".

Depp was suing the tabloid's publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN), and its executive editor, Dan Wootton, over a 2018 article, which referred to "overwhelming evidence" that he attacked ex-wife during their relationship.

Johnny Depp attended the trial held over three weeks at the Royal Courts of Justice in London Credit: Yui Mok/PA

In a ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the star's claim, saying The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN), had proved what was in the article to be "substantially true".

In his ruling, the judge said: "I have found that the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms Heard by Mr Depp have been proved to the civil standard."

He added "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".

Mr Justice Nicol said: "I do not accept this characterisation of Ms Heard."

The judge also said he accepted Ms Heard’s evidence that the allegations she made against Mr Depp "have had a negative effect on her career as an actor and activist".

Amber Heard said she feared for her life Credit: Yui Mok/PA

Jenny Afia of Schillings law firm, who represented Mr Depp, said in a statement: "The judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision."

She continued: "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."

Referencing another libel case involving the pair in the US, the statement continued: "We hope that in contrast to this case, the ongoing libel proceedings in America are equitable, with both parties providing full disclosure rather than one side strategically cherry picking what evidence can and cannot be relied upon."

Depp, 57, and Heard, 34, attended the 16-day trial - which featured days of high drama, claims of brutal violence and sensational revelations about their tempestuous relationship.

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

Depp spent around 20 hours in the witness box over five days.

The actor faced intense questioning about his Hollywood lifestyle, including 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, 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".

Amber Heard giving a statement outside the High Court in London in July 2020 Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

What was the article at the focus of the libel case?

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

The Pirates Of The Caribbean star denied having been violent to Heard.

The actor 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 says Mr Depp was "controlling and verbally and physically abusive towards Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs" between early 2013 and May 2016, when the couple split.

Following Monday's ruling, a spokesperson 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."

Amber Heard was the key witness for the defence in her ex-husband’s libel claim. Credit: PA

While a statement from Ms Heard's US lawyer, Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, said her legal team will be presenting more evidence in Depp's libel action in Virginia against Ms Heard over a Washington Post opinion piece.

"For those of us present for the London High Court trial, this decision and Judgment are not a surprise," the statement read.

"Very soon, we will be presenting even more voluminous evidence in the U.S.  We are committed to obtaining Justice for Amber Heard in the U.S. Court and defending Ms. Heard's Right to Free Speech."

Nicki Norman, acting chief executive at Women’s Aid, said the allegations of domestic abuse against Johnny Depp were "extremely serious."

Following the ruling, she added: "Everyone who has experienced domestic abuse deserves to be listened to and believed.

"This also applies to survivors who do not fit the image of the 'perfect' victim – and regardless of the high profile of the alleged abuser. There is no excuse for domestic abuse."