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November 2, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:44am

Sun wins libel battle against Johnny Depp over ‘wife beater’ article

By Freddy Mayhew

Film star Johnny Depp has lost his libel claim against The Sun newspaper over an article which labelled him a “wife beater”.

Depp, 57, sued the tabloid’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, and its executive editor Dan Wootton who wrote the 2018 article, which carried the headline: “GONE POTTY How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

It referred to “overwhelming evidence” that Depp had been violent towards ex-wife Amber Heard (pictured) during their relationship. The pair met on the set of The Rum Diary movie, in which Heard also starred.

The Sun article has been the subject of a bitter and high-profile legal dispute between the two actors at the High Court in London, with both stars making appearances over the 16-day trial despite Covid-19.

NGN defended the article as true and said Depp was “controlling and verbally and physically abusive towards Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs” between early 2013 and May 2016, when the couple split.

The publisher relied on 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence in its defence, all of which were denied by Depp. 

In a ruling handed down today, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the Pirates Of The Caribbean star’s claim, saying NGN had proved what was in the article to be “substantially true”.

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The judge said: “The claimant has not succeeded in his action for libel.

“Although he has proved the necessary elements of his cause of action in libel, the defendants have shown that what they published in the meaning which I have held the words to bear was substantially true.

“I have reached these conclusions having examined in detail the 14 incidents on which the defendants rely as well as the overarching considerations which the claimant submitted I should take into account.”

The Sun’s legal director, Adam Cannon, tweeted: “We won!”

In his judgment, Mr Justice Nicol said 12 of the 14 alleged assaults against Heard had “been proved to the civil standard”.

The judge rejected the defence’s claim that Heard had “constructed a hoax” against Depp as an “insurance policy” in the event of their marriage breaking down and was “nothing more than a gold-digger”.

He said her donation of her $7m divorce settlement from Depp to charity was “hardly the act one would expect of a gold-digger”.

A Sun spokesperson said: “The Sun has stood up and campaigned for the victims of domestic abuse for over twenty years.

“Domestic abuse victims must never be silenced and we thank the Judge for his careful consideration and thank Amber Heard for her courage in giving evidence to the court.”

Legal firm Schillings, who represented Depp, said the High Court decision is “as perverse as it is bewildering”, adding: “The judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision.”

Depp has also brought a $50m (£39m) defamation suit against Heard in the US over a column she wrote in the Washington Post in December 2018.

Picture: PA Media

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