Actor Johnny Depp has lost his defamation case against a British newspaper that claimed he had assaulted his former wife Amber Heard.
In a highly anticipated ruling on Monday morning, High Court judge Andrew Nicol found the paper’s allegation against the Pirates Of The Caribbean star was “substantially true”.
Depp launched action against The Sun and one of its journalists, Dan Wootton, over a 2018 article that claimed he had been violent towards his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard.
The paper was required to prove the claim was “substantially accurate on the balance of probabilities”.
“The claimant has not succeeded in his action for libel,” Judge Nichol said.
“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.”
Both Depp, 57, and Heard, 34, gave evidence before Judge Andrew Nicol during a three-week hearing at London’s High Court, laying bare their tempestuous private lives and making allegations of serious domestic abuse, drug-taking and affairs.
The Sun celebrated the court’s decision on Monday: “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.”
Heard’s lawyer, Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, said in a statement: “For those of us present for the London High Court trial, this decision and judgment are not a surprise.”
The court heard of an explosive argument inside a Gold Coast mansion rented from MotoGP world champion Mick Doohan while Depp filmed the latest instalment of the blockbuster Pirates of the Carribean franchise.
It also heard evidence that Heard knew that she did not have permission to bring her pet dogs Pistol and Boo into Australia in 2015, but did so anyway and later pressured a staff member to take the blame.
Judge Nicol said Heard’s description of the Gold Coast incident as a “three-day hostage situation” was “something of a hyperbole”, but accepted she had been the victim of assault while in Australia.
“She was not being kept in the house against her will,” he said.
“The house was set back on a long drive, but there were people around. Ms Heard had a mobile phone. She agreed in cross examination that she could have contacted anyone. In the accidentally recorded conversation she spoke of phoning her sister. Ms Heard could have left the house.
“Yet taking all the evidence together, I accept that she was the victim of sustained and multiple assaults by Mr Depp in Australia. It is a sign of the depth of his rage that he admitted scrawling graffiti in blood from his injured finger and then, when that was insufficient, dipping his badly injured finger in paint and continuing to write messages and other things.
“I accept her evidence of the nature of the assaults he committed against her. They must have been terrifying. I accept that Mr Depp put her in fear of her life.”
The judge also rejected Depp’s claim that Heard had severed his fingertip during the row.
The couple met while making The Rum Diary in 2011 and married in February 2015, but Heard filed for divorce 15 months later.
Depp told the court that he was never violent towards his ex-wife, that she was lying, and that she had often attacked him. He said he lost the tip of a finger after she threw a vodka bottle at him during one ferocious row inside the Gold Coast property.
Heard said Depp would turn into a jealous alter ego after bingeing on drugs and alcohol. He had often threatened to kill her, she told the hearings, detailing 14 occasions of extreme violence when she said the actor choked, punched, slapped, head-butted, throttled and kicked her.
Judge Nicol on Monday said he had ruled against Depp after examining each of the 14 allegations.