Law

Actor Johnny Depp loses 'wife beater' libel case in London

Key Points
  • Depp had sued the paper over the story in 2018, in which it was claimed that he had been violent toward his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard.
  • Lurid details of the former couple's relationship were heard in a London court in the summer.
Johnny Depp
Mike Marsland | WireImage | Getty Images

LONDON — Hollywood actor Johnny Depp lost a libel case on Monday against British tabloid newspaper The Sun which published an article that called him a "wife beater."

Depp had sued the paper over the story in 2018, in which it was claimed that he had been violent toward his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard.

The article questioned Depp's casting in the second instalment of the "Fantastic Beasts" movie series, with the headline: "Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be 'genuinely happy' casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?'"

Depp denied the claims and brought a case against News Group Newspapers, which publishes The Sun, and Dan Wootton, the journalist that wrote the article and now an executive editor at the newspaper.

The libel battle attracted widespread publicity for its lurid portrait of the private lives of Depp and his then-wife Heard, and their tempestuous relationship before the couple divorced in 2017.

Details of the former couple's arguments, alleged affairs and Depp's troubles with drink and drug abuse were heard by Judge Mr Justice Nicol at the Royal Courts of Justice over the course of three weeks in July.

Nicol ruled on Monday that the paper's allegations were "substantially true," saying in a ruling published online that "I accept that the defendants have shown that the words they published were substantially true in the meanings I have held them to bear." The ruling could have a considerable impact on Depp's career.

'Flawed' and 'perverse'

Lawyers for Johnny Depp slammed the High Court ruling, calling it "flawed" and "perverse," and said they would appeal, Reuters reported. They said they hoped a separate defamation case that Depp has brought against Amber Heard in the U.S. for an opinion piece she wrote for the Washington Post in late 2018 would have a different outcome.

"This decision is as perverse as it is bewildering," Depp's law firm Schillings said in statement on Monday.

"The judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision," the statement said.

"In the meantime, 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."

A spokesperson for The Sun newspaper tweeted on Monday that the paper had "stood up and campaigned for the victims of domestic abuse for over twenty 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."

U.S. counsel for Amber Heard, Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, said in a statement that she was not surprised by the result.

"For those of us present for the London High Court trial, this decision and Judgment are not a surprise," she said in a statement reported by Reuters.

"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."