High Court due to rule on preliminary issues in Johnny Depp libel trial

By Sian Harrison and Alison Kershaw, PA

A High Court judge is set to rule on preliminary issues in Johnny Depp’s libel claim against a British tabloid newspaper.

The Hollywood actor is suing the publishers of The Sun and its executive editor Dan Wootton over an article which alleged he was violent and abusive towards ex-wife Amber Heard and referred to him as a “wife-beater”.

At a hearing in London last week, lawyers for Mr Depp, 55, and for News Group Newspapers (NGN) asked Mr Justice Nicol to rule on a number of matters in dispute, including issues relating to disclosure of the star’s text messages.

The judge is due to deliver his ruling at 10am on Friday.

David Sherborne, representing the Pirates Of The Caribbean actor, told the earlier hearing that, at a full trial later this month, a judge will have to resolve who is “telling the truth”.

Actor Johnny Depp, centre, leaving the High Court (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Sherborne said: “Mr Depp states that he has never physically assaulted his wife, that the alleged incidents of violence on his part has been invented and that actually it was Ms Heard who was physically violent in the course of the arguments which took place during their marriage.

“Ms Heard claims that Mr Depp physically assaulted her, that she sustained serious injuries as a result and that she was never physically violent towards him at all.

“Plainly, one of them is not telling the truth.”

He added: “As already stated, one of them is lying and doing so on a grand scale.”

The barrister said Mr Depp hopes to “achieve vindication” for the widely publicised allegations at a public trial.

Mr Depp, wearing a suit and blue-tinted glasses, sat in court behind his lawyers throughout last week’s hearing, which dealt with case management issues ahead of a 10-day trial set for March 23.

The libel claim, against News Group Newspapers and Mr Wootton, arises out of publication of an article in The Sun in April 2018 under the headline “Gone Potty How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

Johnny Depp (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

Mr Sherborne said the evidence in the case is “diametrically opposed”.

The barrister told the court Ms Heard’s allegations date back to the early stage of the couple’s relationship in 2013, before they married in 2015.

He also referred to recordings of Ms Heard, 33, which recently came to light, in which she appears to discuss having been physically violent towards Mr Depp.

Mr Sherborne said that evidence “demonstrates in her own voice that she was not a victim of domestic abuse, but rather that she was the aggressor”.

He added that, in the recordings, Ms Heard is apparently heard to say that no-one would believe Mr Depp if he claimed to be a victim of domestic violence.

The court heard a number of witnesses will either attend the trial or appear over a video link, many from California, to give evidence in support of either Mr Depp or Ms Heard.

Lawyers representing News Group Newspapers told the court that texts sent by Mr Depp during his relationship with Ms Heard are “very damaging” to his case.

Adam Wolanski QC said Mr Depp’s previous legal team had “accidentally” disclosed 70,000 text messages to lawyers for the publishers.

The barrister said the messages included texts sent to actor Paul Bettany, in November 2013, in which Mr Depp wrote: “Let’s burn Amber”.

He also wrote: “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will f*** her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead.”

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mr Depp has brought separate libel proceedings against Ms Heard in the US, which Mr Sherborne said are “ongoing”.

Mr Depp and Ms Heard met on the set of 2011 comedy The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015.

In May 2016, Ms Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp after accusing him of abuse, which he denied.

The couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Ms Heard donating her seven million US dollar (£5.5 million) settlement to charity.