High Court ruling in latest stage of Johnny Depp libel claim against The Sun

Sian Harrison and Sam Tobin, PA

Parts of evidence from Amber Heard’s former personal assistant will be aired at the trial of her ex-husband Johnny Depp’s libel claim against The Sun newspaper.

The Pirates Of The Caribbean star is suing the tabloid’s publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN), and its executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that referred to the 56-year-old as a “wife-beater”.

The article related to allegations made against Mr Depp by actress Ms Heard, 34, that he was violent towards her during their marriage – which he strenuously denies.

Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, who said he was never violent towards her (Ian West/PA)

During a High Court hearing last week, Mr Depp’s lawyers asked for the evidence of four additional witnesses – the actor’s former partners Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder, mechanic David Killackey and Ms Heard’s former personal assistant Kate James – to be included in his case against the publisher.

In a High Court ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Nicol gave consent for the statements of Ms Paradis and Ms Ryder to be included – which NGN lawyers had previously agreed to.

However, the judge said Mr Killackey’s evidence would be excluded, and only parts of Ms James’s evidence could be admitted.

The judge ruled that Ms James’s evidence relating to Ms Heard’s consumption of red wine, her impression of Mr Depp, and an allegation that Ms Heard provided altered vaccination certificates for the couple’s pet dogs, could form part of Mr Depp’s case.

He also allowed a claim by Ms James that Ms Heard asked her to help draft a letter to US Homeland Security in 2014, which falsely claimed one of Ms Heard’s employees was just a friend, which meant she would not fall foul of regulations.

Amber Heard (Anthony Devlin/PA)

However, he excluded other parts of Ms James’s witness statement, including evidence relating to Ms Heard’s alleged drug taking, the redesign of the actress’s apartment and her clothing style – saying they were “irrelevant”.

The judge also said he will determine during the trial whether Ms James’s evidence relating to what was referred to in court as the “Australia dogs episode”, will be allowed to form part of Mr Depp’s case.

In 2014, Ms Heard and Mr Depp recorded a now infamous video apologising for bringing their Yorkshire terriers Pistol and Boo into Australia illegally.

Ms Heard pleaded guilty to falsifying an immigration document to conceal the dogs in a private jet in 2014 and avoided jail under a deal that included appearing in the video warning others against breaking Australia’s strict quarantine laws.

At last week’s hearing, lawyers for Mr Depp said evidence from Ms Paradis, who has two children with the star, and actress Winona Ryder, with whom he had a relationship in the 1990s, should form part of his case against the publisher.

David Sherborne, representing Mr Depp, said in court documents that his relationship with Ms Paradis ended in 2012, shortly before he and Ms Heard were together “and when he is first alleged to have been violent”.

In her statement, Ms Paradis said: “I have known Johnny for more than 25 years.

“We’ve been partners for 14 years and we raised our two children together.

“Through all these years I’ve known Johnny to be a kind, attentive, generous, and non-violent person and father.”

She added: “He was never violent or abusive to me.”

Winona Ryder said Johnny Depp was ‘never violent, never abusive’ towards her (Yui Mok/PA)

In her statement, Ms Ryder said: “I cannot wrap my head around (Ms Heard’s) accusations.

“He was never, never violent towards me. He was never, never abusive at all towards me.”

Mr Sherborne said Mr Killackey’s witness statement referred to an incident after Ms Heard “asked for her car to be released without payment”, which Mr Killackey refused.

Mr Killackey claimed Ms Heard had said: “Johnny isn’t paying my rent, he isn’t paying my bills, f*** him, f*** you,” Mr Sherborne said.

Mr Sherborne said Ms James, who worked for Ms Heard during the early years of her relationship with Mr Depp, claims Ms Heard asked her to lie about “the Australia dogs episode”.

Sasha Wass QC, representing NGN and Mr Wootton, argued during last week’s hearing that the evidence of Mr Killackey and Ms James was “largely tangential”, describing Ms James as a “disaffected ex-employee” who was giving “contentious and malicious evidence”.

A two-week trial was due to start in London on March 23 at which the actor, Ms Heard and a number of Hollywood figures would have had to give evidence, but it was put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The trial is now set to take place at the Royal Courts of Justice over three weeks from July 7, with strict social distancing measures in place.

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp attending the premiere of Black Mass during the 59th BFI London Film Festival in 2015 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mr Sherborne said Mr Depp intends to travel from his home in France to London to give evidence, while Ms Heard will be able to travel from California but will have to observe a 14-day quarantine if current restrictions remain in place.

The libel claim against NGN 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?”

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

The pair 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 Mr 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 dollars (£5.5 million) settlement to charity.

A spokeswoman for Ms Heard said: “As the judgment today shows, Mr Depp’s team has been attempting to introduce irrelevant evidence.

“This is one of the defining characteristics of their strategy – to adduce irrelevant evidence designed to smear Ms Heard and distract from the facts so that people do not focus on Mr Depp’s behaviour.”

Adam Waldman, Mr Depp’s US lawyer, who is instructed in the libel proceedings, said in a statement: “The Sun attempted to exclude the truth.

“But in a case about Amber Heard’s lies and frauds to get what she wants, we are delighted that we will be able to show Amber Heard’s history of lies and frauds to get what she wants.”