Johnny Depp ordered to disclose audio recordings ahead of libel trial

By Sian Harrison, PA

Johnny Depp will have to disclose audio recordings of conversations between him and ex-wife Amber Heard as part of his libel claim against a British tabloid newspaper.

The Hollywood actor is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), the publishers of The Sun, and its executive editor Dan Wootton, over an article which alleged he was violent and abusive towards his 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, 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 ordered that Mr Depp must make further disclosure – the handing over of evidence ahead of a trial – in relation to audio tapes of the conversations he had with Ms Heard, 33, during their relationship.

Lawyers for the Pirates Of The Caribbean star told the court last week that the recordings, which have been the subject of recent press reports, include Ms Heard appearing to discuss having been physically violent towards Mr Depp.

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

David Sherborne, representing Mr Depp, said the 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 judge also ordered further disclosure from Mr Depp in relation to documents from the couple’s divorce proceedings, and to provide more detail to show what steps he has taken to obtain his medical records.

However, the judge refused NGN’s application for further disclosure in relation to text messages sent by Mr Depp to his friend, British actor Paul Bettany.

During the hearing on February 26, lawyers for NGN said 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, from whom he parted company on February 11, had “accidentally” disclosed 70,000 text messages to NGN’s lawyers.

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.”

Johnny Depp (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

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 contends that the meaning of the article is that he was “guilty, on overwhelming evidence, of serious domestic violence against his then wife, causing significant injury and leading to her fearing for her life, which (he) was then constrained to pay no less than £5 million to compensate her, and which resulted in him being subjected to a continuing court restraining order; and for that reason is not fit to work in the film industry.”

The meaning of the article which NGN will seek to prove is true at trial, is that Mr Depp “beat his wife Amber Heard, causing her to suffer significant injury and on occasion leading to her fearing for her life”.

Mr Sherborne told the earlier hearing that 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.

Mr Sherborne said the evidence in the case is “diametrically opposed” and said Ms Heard’s allegations date back to the early stage of the couple’s relationship in 2013, before they married in 2015.

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp (Jonathan Brady/PA)

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.

An order made by Mr Justice Nicol revealed that actress Amanda de Cadenet, a friend of Ms Heard, will give evidence over a video link.

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 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 dollar (£5.5 million) settlement to charity.