Johnny Depp vs The Sun newspaper – High profile libel win for LAWorld member Simons Muirhead and Burton LLP

Last week Mr Justice Nicol at London’s High Court handed down his judgment in what has been called “the libel trial of the century”.

Johnny Depp sued the publisher of The Sun and its Executive Editor, Dan Wootton, over articles from 2018 titled “How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

The Defendants defended their journalism as true: that Mr Depp beat his then wife Amber Heard, causing her injury and making her fear for her life.

At a 3 week trial in July this year – across 5 socially distanced courtrooms – Mr Depp and Ms Heard both gave live evidence, along with at least 20 other witnesses, some by video link. Volumes of evidence were considered: film and audio clips, statements, text messages, emails, medical records and photographs.

At the centre of proceedings were 14 key incidents of violence that the Defendants relied on to prove their case. These were alleged to have happened over 3 years and across many locations: Los Angeles, Tokyo, Australia, and others – some on planes or trains.

Mr Depp said he had never hit Ms Heard and that he was owed substantial libel damages. He said he was a “Southern gentleman” and that this sort of conduct would be unthinkable; instead, he said she had been the violent one.

The Judge has now found that Mr Depp committed 12 out of the 14 incidents of physical assault, and that on 3 of those occasions Ms Heard indeed feared for her life.

After assessing all the evidence, the Judge has held that:

    1. Mr Depp first hit Ms Heard in early 2013 in Los Angeles, after she joked about his tattoo “Wino Forever”.
    2. In March 2013 at her home in Los Angeles, Mr Depp was drunk and taking cocaine. He flew into a jealous rage, tried to set fire to a painting done by an ex of Ms Heard’s, then hit, shook and shoved her.
    3. Again in a jealous rage, Mr Depp smashed up a trailer and attacked Ms Heard later that same year.
    4. Drunk and high on a private jet in 2014, Mr Depp kicked Ms Heard – screaming obscenities at her before passing out in the plane toilet.
    5. During a trip to the Bahamas for him to detox in 2014, Mr Depp kicked Ms Heard and pushed her to the ground.
    6. In a Tokyo hotel room in January 2015, Mr Depp shoved and slapped Ms Heard, muscling her to the floor.
    7. Mr Depp went on a 3 day rampage in Australia in March 2015 after drinking and taking drugs, getting into a jealous rage. He smashed up the house they were staying in and repeatedly physically assaulted Ms Heard, causing her cuts all over her body. He hit her, pushed her to the ground and threw bottles at her, making her fear for her life.
    8. In Los Angeles in March 2015, during an incident on a staircase of their home, Mr Depp grabbed Ms Heard’s hair and hit her repeatedly. Ms Heard punched Mr Depp in defence of her sister, Whitney, who was also there.
    9. Mr Depp and Ms Heard were on a train in South East Asia in August 2015. Mr Depp hit her and pushed her against a wall by her throat, holding her there and causing her to fear for her life.
    10. In December 2015 Mr Depp slapped Ms Heard, grabbed her by her hair and dragged her through their apartment in Los Angeles. He shoved her, headbutted her in the face, pushed her and punched her in the back of her head, screaming that he wold kill her. He got on her back on a bed and pushed her face into the mattress. She feared for her life. Her makeup artist covered up her injuries with makeup for her appearance on television the next day.
    11. After a birthday party at their home in Los Angeles in April 2016 Mr Depp assaulted Ms Heard.
    12. On 21 May 2016 at their home in Los Angeles Mr Depp flew into a rage and threw a mobile phone at Ms Heard, which injured her face.

In the wake of this devastating ruling, Mr Depp has now confirmed that Warner Brothers have asked him to resign from his role in the Fantastic Beasts film series. He is still pursuing related libel litigation against Ms Heard in the USA, and he says he plans to appeal Mr Justice Nicol’s judgment. The basis on which will seek to do so is unclear.


Jeffrey Smele

Partner, Simons Muirhead & Burton LLP

Simons Muirhead & Burton LLP
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