Johnny Depp is not a wife beater and ex-wife Amber Heard’s allegations of violence are “complete lies”, his lawyers have told the High Court.
The 57-year-old actor is suing The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN), and its executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an article which called him a “wife beater” and referred to “overwhelming evidence” that he attacked Ms Heard, 34, during their relationship – which he strenuously denies.
In a written outline of the Hollywood star’s case, his barrister, David Sherborne, said the article made “defamatory allegations of the utmost seriousness” against Mr Depp, accusing him of committing serious assaults on Ms Heard and “inflicting such serious injuries that she feared for her life”.
Mr Sherborne said: “The articles amount to a full-scale attack on the claimant as a ‘wife beater’, guilty of the most horrendous physical abuse.
“The author deploys a panoply of cultural and topical references – namely the #MeToo movement, the Time’s Up movement and the disgraced film mogul and serial abuser of women Harvey Weinstein – in order to convey the seriousness of what the claimant is alleged to have done.
“They are allegations which the claimant absolutely denies, and which, at the time of publication, he had already publicly denied.
“Despite that, the defendants published the allegations, without any reference to the claimant’s position, to launch (Mr Wootton’s) ‘brand new column’ with a fanfare.
“They even deliberately misused and misquoted #MeToo/Time’s Up victim Katherine Kendall to present the false impression that she – and by obvious implication the #MeToo movement as well – endorsed these allegations, something which Ms Kendall complained about in writing to The Sun but to no avail.
“The claimant’s position is clear – Ms Heard’s allegations are complete lies.
“The claimant was not violent towards Ms Heard, it was she who was violent to him.”
Mr Sherborne added: “The documentary evidence shows that Ms Heard is a complex individual who suffered extreme mood swings, would provoke endless circular arguments, and fly into violent rages.
“During her relationship with the claimant, she was taking a wide range of prescribed medication and other drugs, and her behaviour was extremely unpredictable – at times she was controlling and ‘mothering’, at other times hostile and angry if she did not get the claimant’s full attention, and at other times the opposite towards him, having affairs or seeking attention from elsewhere.
“The evidence will also show that the claimant was in love with her, and that he found it very difficult to understand or deal with her often bewildering behaviour.
“The marriage was at times physical, at her instigation, and on occasions he found it necessary to defend himself from her violence.
“He is not a wife beater and never has been.”
The barrister went on: “Ms Heard has concocted a catalogue of ever more extreme and shocking lies about him.
“From Mr Depp’s knowledge of her and her ability to tell convincing lies, and from material which has emerged in the aftermath of their marriage, it is clear that Ms Heard is someone who was prepared to go to extreme lengths when she was not getting her own way and to characterise herself as a spokesperson for domestic violence, exploiting the rising popular movement for speaking out against violence against women for her own ends.”
Mr Depp and Ms Heard both arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday wearing face coverings, with more than 30 photographers waiting outside the entrance.
The actor’s case against NGN and Mr Wootton arises out of the publication of an article on The Sun’s website on April 27 2018 with the headline “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”
The words “wife beater” were removed from the headline the following morning and were not used in the print edition, but Mr Depp says the article still caused “serious harm to his personal and professional reputation” and “significant distress and embarrassment”.
The Pirates Of The Caribbean star denies ever having been violent to Ms Heard, and claims 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.
NGN is defending the article as true and says 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.
Last week, Mr Depp failed in a last-minute bid to stop his ex-wife attending until she is called to give evidence.
The court is expected to hear evidence by video-link from Mr Depp’s former partners, actresses Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder, who both say he was never violent to them, as well as Ms Heard’s friends, who claim they were present when Mr Depp was abusive.
The trial, due to last three weeks, was originally due to start in March but was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and is now going to occupy five courtrooms to ensure social distancing.
A separate libel claim brought by Mr Depp against Ms Heard in the US – over a December 2018 column in the Washington Post, which said the actress received “the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out” but did not mention Mr Depp by name – is due to begin next January.
The pair met on the set of 2011 comedy-drama The Rum Diary – based on a novel by Mr Depp’s friend, Hunter S Thompson, whom he played in the 1998 film Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas – and began living together in 2012 before marrying in Los Angeles in February 2015.
Ms Heard obtained a restraining order against Mr Depp in LA shortly after the couple split in 2016 and donated her seven million US dollars (£5.5 million) divorce settlement to charity.