(Press Association) Johnny Depp has arrived at the High Court for the first day of his libel case against The Sun over allegations of domestic violence.
The 57-year-old actor is suing the tabloid’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN) over an article which called him a “wife beater” and referred to “overwhelming evidence” he attacked Amber Heard, 34, during their relationship, which he strenuously denies.
Depp was wearing a face covering and sunglasses as walked into the main entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice in central London. More than 30 photographers were waiting at the entrance as the Hollywood star arrived at 9.55AM. Depp was called as the first witness in the trial.
His former wife, Amber Heard, has also arrived for the start of the three-week trial. Wearing a red face covering, she walked into court holding hands with two women.
In an April 2018 column, The Sun’s executive editor Dan Wootton asked how Harry Potter author JK Rowling could be “genuinely happy” Depp had been cast in the latest film in the Fantastic Beasts spin-off franchise despite the allegations by Heard.
The Pirates Of The Caribbean star denies ever having been violent to 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 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 relies on 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence, including what Heard describes as a “three-day hostage situation” in Australia in March 2015 when Depp lost the tip of his middle finger in disputed circumstances. 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 videolink from Depp’s former partners actresses Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder, who both say he was never violent to them, as well as Heard’s friends who claim they were present when Depp was abusive.
Heard’s former assistant Kate James, who claims she was asked to lie to the Australian authorities over the couple bringing their dogs into the country illegally in 2015, is also among the witnesses due to give evidence.
Depp’s case was almost thrown out of court last week after NGN’s lawyers said they were not given texts between him and his assistant Nathan Holmes, which apparently showed the star asking for “happy pills” and “whitey stuff”, shortly before the 2015 trip to Australia.
The trial judge, Mr Justice Nicol, ruled Depp was in breach of a court order to provide documents which have been disclosed in separate libel proceedings against Heard in the US, but said the case should still go ahead.
The High Court has previously heard around 70,000 of Depp’s texts were accidentally sent to NGN by his former lawyers, which included messages sent to actor Paul Bettany in November 2013 in which Depp wrote: “Let’s burn Amber.”
He also said: “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will f**k her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead.”
Another text sent by Depp – to his friend Christian Carino on August 15 2016, around the time he and Heard broke up – said Heard was “begging for global humiliation” and that she was “going to get it”.
The message added: “I have no mercy, no fear and not an ounce of emotion or what I thought was love for this gold-digging, low-level, dime-a-dozen, mushy, pointless, dangling, overused flappy fish market.”
Depp’s lawyers claim Heard was conducting “two extra-martial affairs” – with SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk and actor James Franco – at the time of the alleged abuse and say secret recordings of the couple’s conversations show she was “the aggressor” of the pair.
The trial was originally due to start in March but was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and is now going to occupy five courtrooms, with the lawyers and judge “in court”, journalists in another courtroom and members of the public in three others to ensure social distancing.
The actor’s case against NGN and 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 Depp says the article still caused “serious harm to his personal and professional reputation” and “significant distress and embarrassment”.
Depp’s libel claim against Heard in Virginia – 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 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 Depp’s friend, Hunter S Thompson, who 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.
Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp in LA shortly after the couple split in 2016 and donated her $7M divorce settlement to charity.