Johnny Depp assaulted Amber Heard on dozen occasions, High Court rules

Tom Butler
·Senior Editor
·5 min read
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 11:  Actors Amber Heard (L) and Johnny Depp attend The Art of Elysium's 7th Annual HEAVEN Gala presented by Mercedes-Benz at Skirball Cultural Center on January 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Art of Elysium)
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp attend a gala in 2014. (Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Art of Elysium)

Johnny Depp assaulted his ex-wife Amber Heard on a dozen occasions, putting her in “fear for her life” during three of them, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Depp, 57, sued the publisher of The Sun for libel over a 2018 article that labelled him a “wife beater”.

The Hollywood star took legal action against News Group Newspapers (NGN) over the 2018 column by the newspaper’s executive editor Dan Wootton, which referred to “overwhelming evidence” that he attacked Ms Heard, 34, during their relationship.

In a ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the Pirates Of The Caribbean star’s claim, saying NGN had proved what was in the article to be “substantially true”.

Read more: How the Johnny Depp court ruling could affect his career

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.”

Watch: Reactions to the Depp ruling

Mr Justice Nicol said he was “not persuaded” that an alleged “incident of violence” in Los Angeles in December 2014 “constituted a physical assault of Ms Heard by Mr Depp”.

He also said that he could not rule that an alleged incident in LA in November 2015 had been proven because it was not put to Mr Depp in cross-examination.

However, he found that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence relied on by NGN did occur.

Read more: Johnny Depp may launch appeal over ‘perverse’ ruling

The judge found that Mr Depp put Ms Heard “in fear of her life” during what the actress described as a “three-day hostage situation” in Australia in March 2015, as well as on the Eastern and Oriental Express in South East Asia that August and again in LA in December of the same year.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 21: (EUROPE AND AUSTRALASIA OUT) American actor Johnny Depp and wife Amber Heard arrive on a private jet at Brisbane Airport on April 21, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Adam Armstrong/Newspix/Getty Images)
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard arrive on a private jet in Brisbane, Australia in 2015. (Adam Armstrong/Newspix/Getty Images)

Mr Justice Nicol also said that “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”.

But he added: “I do not accept this characterisation of Ms Heard.”

The biggest English libel trial of the 21st century garnered worldwide attention as it unfolded over three weeks in July at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Read more: Timeline of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s relationship

Mr Depp and Ms Heard 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.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook, showing actor Johnny Depp, right, being cross-examined by Sasha Wass QC, left, before the judge, Justice Nicol, at the High Court in London, Tuesday July 7, 2020.   The libel case by Depp against a British tabloid newspaper started Tuesday over a 2018 article that branded him violent and abusive to then-wife Amber Heard. Depp strongly denies the claim. (Elizabeth Cook/PA via AP)
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook, showing actor Johnny Depp, right, being cross-examined by Sasha Wass QC, left, before the judge, Justice Nicol, at the High Court in London on 7 July, 2020. (Elizabeth Cook/PA via AP)

Mr Depp spent around 20 hours in the witness box over five days, facing intense questioning about his Hollywood lifestyle, 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, Ms 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”.

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

Mr Depp denied having been violent to Ms Heard, and 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.

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - September 20: **NO SPAIN** Johnny Depp at the 'Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan' Photocall during 68th San Sebastian International Film Festival at Kursaal Palace on September 20, 2020 in Donostia / San Sebastian, Spain. Credit: Jimmy Olsen/MediaPunch /IPX
Johnny Depp in September 2020. (Jimmy Olsen/MediaPunch /IPX)

NGN defended the article as true and said Mr Depp was “controlling and verbally and physically abusive towards Ms Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs” between early 2013 and May 2016, when the couple split.

After the 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.”

Ms Heard’s US lawyer Elaine Charlson Bredehoft said the actress’s legal team will be presenting more evidence in Mr Depp’s separate libel action in Virginia against Ms Heard over a Washington Post opinion piece.

Actress Amber Heard, alongside her sister Whitney Henriquez (second right) and lawyer Jen Robinson (right), as she gives a statement outside the High Court in London on the final day of hearings in Johnny Depp's libel case against the publishers of The Sun and its executive editor, Dan Wootton. After almost three weeks, the biggest English libel trial of the 21st century is drawing to a close, as Mr Depp's lawyers are making closing submissions to Mr Justice Nicol. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)
Amber Heard, alongside her sister Whitney Henriquez (second right) and lawyer Jen Robinson (right), she gives a statement outside the High Court on the final day of hearings. (Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)

Ms Bredehoft said: “For those of us present for the London High Court trial, this decision and judgment are not a surprise.

“Very soon, we will be presenting even more voluminous evidence in the US.”

It is believed the total legal costs of the case will be in the region of £3m to £5m.