Johnny Depp attacked for 'breathtaking arrogance' as High Court libel battle with The Sun over Amber Heard 'abuse' claims hangs in balance

Tristan Kirk
Johnny Depp has appeared in court: AP

Hollywood star Johnny Depp has been accused of “breathtaking arrogance” for breaking a court order and plunging his libel battle with The Sun newspaper into doubt.

The 57-year-old Pirates of the Caribbean star is suing The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN), and its executive editor Dan Wootton, over a 2018 article which called him a “wife beater”.

Mr Depp denies being violent towards ex-wife Amber Heard, 34, during their marriage and has brought a libel claim over the article.

But the future of the case was thrown into doubt on Monday morning when Mr Justice Nicol ruled the actor had broken a court order by failing to disclose so-called “drug texts”.

The Sun’s lawyers claimed the messages are key to the issues in the trial, which is due to start in a week’s time, and want the whole case thrown out.

Adam Wolanski QC, representing the newspaper, said Mr Depp had not shown “contrition” for what happened and accused him of “breathtaking arrogance” for failing to apologise.

“He has demonstrated contempt for our courts and for your lordship”, he added.

Mr Wolanski argued the actor should hire a new legal team to look at disclosure of potential evidence afresh, but Mr Depp has not done so.

“In my submission, unless the whole disclosure exercise is carried out afresh with a different legal team, the defendants cannot have a fair trial.”

David Sherborne, representing Mr Depp, said an apology and an explanation for the failure to disclose the text messages had been offered, and insisted that the star was entitled to seek “vindication” with a full libel trial.

(Getty Images)

He accused The Sun of deliberately airing a string of lurid allegations in pre-trial hearings, and said Mr Depp had been publicly branded a “coward” when he sought to have the trial delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“They are deliberately conducting these proceedings by airing the allegations in open court at interim hearings in a way which we have said was gratuitous and deliberately intended to inflame the publicity surrounding them to damage the claimant and to put him in the worst possible light”, he said.

Referring to the 'coward' jibe, he added: “This very public and deliberate taunting, to the effect that the allegations are true, in my submission is another reason why your lordship needs to consider vindication as the paramount factor and the defendants have deliberately made it so in the way they have conducted this litigation.”

Both Mr Depp and Ms Heard claim they were the victims of domestic abuse during the volatile marriage.

(Getty Images)

In one of 14 alleged incidents, the actress claims Mr Depp subjected her to a “three-day hostage-taking situation” in Australia, including a torrent of physical assault, that involved excessive drinking and drug-taking.

The Sun argues that messages between Mr Depp and his assistant Nathan Holmes apparently relating to drugs, which emerged during parallel legal proceedings in America, should have been disclosed in the UK case.

Mr Justice Nicol this morning agreed, saying: “The Australian drug texts were adverse to the claimant’s pleaded case and/or were supportive of the defendants’ pleaded case.”

However he stopped short of throwing the case out to allow for Mr Depp’s legal team to remedy the breach.

The hearing continues. A three-week libel trial is due to start on July 7.

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