Actor Depp rejects ex-wife’s abuse claims in libel action against UK tabloid

FILE PHOTO: Actor Johnny Depp leaves the High Court in London
FILE PHOTO: Actor Johnny Depp leaves the High Court in London, Britain, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

July 7, 2020

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Hollywood star Johnny Depp accused his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, of conducting extra-marital affairs and lying about him beating her up as he began libel action in a London court on Tuesday against a British tabloid newspaper.

Depp, the 57-year-old star of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, is suing The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, and its executive editor, Dan Wootton, for libel over an article Wootton wrote in April 2018 calling him a “wife beater”.

The paper’s lawyers said they would show the claim was true and that he had beaten Heard, causing her to fear for her life, during violent rages brought on by alcohol or drugs, sometimes when he had falsely accused her of infidelity.

The actor became an alternate persona which he himself described as “the monster”, they said.

“For the avoidance of any doubt, I have never abused Ms Heard, or, indeed, any other woman, in my life,” Depp said in a witness statement in which he characterised his ex-wife as a calculating, sociopathic, emotionally dishonest narcissist.

Wearing a dark suit and glasses and speaking in a deep clear tone, Depp gave evidence at the beginning of the case at London’s High Court. Heard, who arrived wearing a red scarf tied around her face, is also due to give evidence.

In a written statement outlining Depp’s case, his lawyer David Sherborne said Heard had first aired the abuse allegations in May 2016, saying it was hard to think of “more extreme or violent” claims of abuse than she would make during the trial.

“The Claimant’s position is clear; Ms Heard’s allegations are complete lies,” Sherborne said. “The Claimant was not violent towards Ms Heard, it was she who was violent to him.”

In papers submitted to the court, Depp’s team also said Heard had begun an affair with Tesla chief executive Elon Musk in early 2015 shortly after they had got married and had engaged in at least one extra-marital relationship with her co-stars, with actor James Franco named.

Appearing in the witness box, American Depp said he was the victim of attacks from his ex-wife and had himself sought to avoid confrontation.

“I would try to go to my own corner as it were,” he said. Asked about one argument, Depp said: “It escalated and it got physical … Miss Heard struck me.”

THREE-WEEK CASE

The couple met on the set of the 2011 film “The Rum Diary” and married in February 2015. Heard filed for divorce after 15 months and days later obtained a restraining order against Depp. Their divorce was finalised in 2017 when the restraining order was dismissed.

Cross-examined by lawyer Sasha Wass, Depp agreed he had taken “every drug known to man” by the age of 14 and said he had had a difficult childhood and struggled to come to terms with his fame and success.

“Even when I speak my own name it sounds foreign to me,” he said.

He denied Wass’s suggestion he had a “nasty, angry side” as she told the court he had trashed a New York hotel room and threatened paparazzi in London, when he said he had hit one photographer’s hand with a piece of wood.

Wass also recounted a statement from actress Ellen Barkin, who said Depp had thrown a bottle of wine across a hotel room on one occasion and had got jealous and angry.

“Untrue,” Depp replied, saying Barkin held a grudge.

The case is set to last for three weeks, the judge, Andrew Nicol, said. Also due to give evidence via videolink are Vanessa Paradis, Depp’s former partner, and actress Winona Ryder.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Ed Osmond)