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Johnny Depp’s UK libel trial ends with a dramatic flourish

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US actor Johnny Depp gestures as he leaves the High Court after the final day of his libel trial against News Group Newspapers (NGN), in London, on Tuesday. AFP

Johnny Depp’s UK libel trial ends with a dramatic flourish

Johnny Depp clutched a teddy bear and Amber Heard made an emotional appeal on Tuesday as the Hollywood actor’s three-week libel trial against The Sun newspaper’s “wife-beating” claim ended with a flourish.

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise hero was mobbed by fans chanting “Justice for Johnny” and trying to pass him bouquets and toys as he struggled to make his way into London’s High Court for the last time.

Heard made a low-key entrance through a side door.

But the 34-year-old model and actress seized the stage moments after the biggest libel case to hit London in decades ended without a firm date for when the verdict will be read.

“It has been incredibly painful to relive the breakup of my relationship, my motive, my truth,” she told reporters outside court in a breaking voice as a Depp supporter tried to shout her down.

But she added: “I stand by my testimony. And I now place my faith in British justice, although I did not bring up this lawsuit.”

Depp rejects accusations of repeatedly hurting Heard while battling a drug addiction over a stormy three-year span that ended with her 2016 decision to get a restraining order and file for divorce.

The 57-year-old star’s lawyer David Sherborne called The Sun’s 2018 allegation a “disservice” to the #MeToo movement the article was trying to support.

Depp “was cited in the same breath as disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein”, Sherborne said in a closing statement.

“That is why he has come here – to clear his reputation.”

‘The damage is done’

Some legal experts say Depp’s reputation will have trouble recovering even if The Sun is forced to retract its claim.

“I think the damage is done,” said London PR agent and crisis consultant Mark Borkowski. “Even if he wins, it’s going to be a Pyrrhic victory.”

The odds favour Depp because England’s strict libel laws place the burden of proof on the media.

That puts one of Britain’s most popular newspapers in danger of having to cover huge court expenses and pay damages in the middle of a media industry crisis made even worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sun’s defeat could also imperil Heard’s Hollywood career.

“If The Sun wins, Heard will likely be viewed as a brave crusader in the domestic violence and #MeToo arena,” said defamation case lawyer Emily Cox.

“If The Sun loses, Heard could well find herself ostracised by those movements and by Hollywood.”

‘Cinderella to Quasimodo’

The trial kicked off with three days of gruelling cross-examination in which Depp admitted only hazily recalling some episodes because he was high and drunk.

Depp revealed at one stage that he started snorting cocaine to kick his addiction to prescription painkillers.

He argued that he was suffering “uncontrollable spasms” during withdrawal and was in “no physical condition” to hurt Heard in one alleged incident.

The Sun’s lawyers also produced a statement from Depp’s doctor concluding that the actor “romanticises the drug culture” and was only going through rehab for show.

“We are a crime scene waiting to happen,” Depp told Heard after one fight.

But he also portrayed his wife as a manic aggressor who was making up the allegations for money and personal fame.

Depp said Heard’s claims turned him “from Cinderella to Quasimodo in 0.6 seconds”.

‘A wonderful year’

Heard countered that Depp’s drug habit made him an unrecognisable “monster” who would go on days-long binges in which he lost control.

She accused him of throwing bottles at her “like grenades” and striking her in the face with a phone.

“Some incidents were so severe that I was afraid he was going to kill me, either intentionally or just by losing control and going too far,” she said in a witness statement.

Yet both Heard and Depp acknowledged loving each other deeply on their good days.

“We had had a wonderful year together where he was sober,” she said. “I loved him and I didn’t want to lose that.”

Depp conceded that Heard did her best trying to get him off drugs in 2014.

“She does have a heart and she understands the pain I was experiencing,” he told the court.


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