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Johnny Depp arrives at court on final day of £350,000 libel trial

The end of Johnny Depp’s sensational libel trial against The Sun newspaper will have a major impact on another high-profile case the Hollywood star is bringing against ex-wife Amber Heard in the US.

Judgment in the High Court trial in London is not expected to be delivered by Mr Justice Nicol until late September, giving Depp’s lawyers enough time to prepare for his US defamation case against Heard, which is expected to get underway next January.

In the US proceedings, Depp is suing Heard for $50 million over a 2018 article she wrote in the Washington Post in which she describes herself as being a domestic abuse survivor.

Although Depp is not specifically named, his lawyers allege that it is obvious that the article refers to him and labels the actor of being a domestic abuser.

The three-week libel trial against The Sun in London, in which Depp hopes to win £350,000 in damages, has widely been seen as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the US hearing, which will take place in Virginia.

It will feature all the same witnesses that appeared on behalf of either Depp or Heard in London and is also based on the same bombshell evidence that was produced at the High Court over the past few weeks.

The US hearing will also result in Depp and Heard returning to the witness box again to divulge details of their stormy relationship, which have already generated widespread publicity around the world.

Defamations from the former Hollywood couple and their witnesses have already been filed in the US, with the war of words between their respective camps already underway.

Depp’s defence in the US also mirrors the one that has featured at the High Court; that it was Heard and not him who was physically abusive in their relationship and that he is the victim of a ‘hoax’ orchestrated by her and her associates.

But legal sources have indicated that a potential ’round two’ of the Depp-Heard now depends on the outcome of the London libel hearing and could be settled even before it comes to court, depending on Mr Justice Nicol’s judgment.

One source connected to the High Court trial told MailOnline: ‘A lot depends on this High Court hearing for both Depp and Heard. If Depp loses in London, he’s unlikely to pursue the US case. If Heard loses, she’s going to try and settle the US case out of court.

‘Both of them are very head strong people and have a got the appetite for another fight in the US. And I’m sure the world will enjoy it because it’s been great entertainment. But it would be absolutely foolish of them to go back to court in the US if the London case goes against either of them. Ultimately, what happens in the US hearing is in the hands of Mr Justice Nicol.’

For Heard, preventing the US hearing from going ahead may also come down to a question of economics. Faced with a $50 million defamation suit, she does not have the financial resources that are at Depp’s disposal and if the Virgina court was to find against her, it could leave her bankrupt.

Depp has made it privately clear to his legal team that he is determined to further vindicate his name in the US if he wins the libel hearing against The Sun. The High Court trial is estimated to have cost him £1 million in legal fees and a US hearing is expected to cost him around the same amount.

On the final day of the blockbuster trial today, Depp’s lawyer laid into ‘compulsive liar’ Heard and claimed her evidence has been littered with inconsistencies.

The Pirates of the Caribbean star, who missed yesterday’s hearing, received a rapturous welcome from fans this morning as he arrived at the High Court for the final day of the hearing. 

Depp was present to hear his barrister David Sherborne deliver his final submission, following a trial which has gripped the showbiz world with sensational details of his marriage to the Aquaman actress.

Today, Heard was accused of being a ‘compulsive liar,’ which, the court was told, calls into question her evidence and claims that she was a victim of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of Depp. 

Mr Sherborne asked the judge, Mr Justice Nicol – who is likely to deliver his judgment at the end of September following the High Court’s summer break next month – to consider five key points which he said, prove their allegation that Heard has lied in her evidence. He asked him to consider her credibility as witness based on them.

The first, the barrister said, was the Heard had lied about incidents; the second, that she added further details about incidents; third, that she ‘invented wholly’ incidents based around text messages; fourth, that she responded to ‘difficult evidence’ by blaming others, ‘largely Mr Depp;’ and finally, Mr Sherborne claimed, Heard had refused to admit that she had not been telling the truth when confronted by it. 

He added: ‘If the court reaches the conclusion that any one of those five points is correct, then Miss Heard’s evidence can’t be treated as from a witness of truth, which given her centrality to the defendants case, we say spells doom.’

Mr Sherborne alleged that it was Heard who was the domestic abuser, not Depp.

The court heard a recording, which was also played earlier in the trial, in which she admits to hitting him, as Depp’s legal team alleged Heard has a ‘propensity for violence’.

Mr Sherborne added: ‘Miss Heard perpetrated acts of violence on Mr Depp. Why can’t she say this? Because it can’t fit with her narrative of Mr Depp being a wife beater.

‘Her physical violence towards him makes her the domestic abuser, not him.’  

Depp, 57, is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), publishers of the Sun and executive editor Dan Wootton over a 2018 article which referred to him as a ‘wife beater’. 

It appeared under the headline ‘Gone Potty How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?’

A written submission presented to Mr Justice Nicol claimed that allegations contained in the article are untrue and go ‘to the very heart’ of Depp’s integrity and who he is as a person.

It stated: ‘The libel in this case is of the utmost seriousness published to the world at large. It goes to very heart of who Mr Depp is as a person. Is he a violent monster who put his ex-wife in fear for her life or has she falsely accused him of the most heinous conduct?

‘The allegation could hardly be more serious. The allegation of domestic violence and causing serious injury to Ms Heard and putting her in fear of her life goes to the heart of Mr Depp’s integrity.’

The Sun’s article, it continued, had maliciously compared Depp to Harvey Weinstein and included him in the ‘rogues gallery of abusers’ that the #MeToo campaign had exposed.

Mr Justice Nicol was asked to consider the professional and personal damage done to Depp’s reputation, which it was alleged, was not challenged by The Sun’s lawyers when he was giving evidence.

Mr Sherborne referred to Johnny Depp’s ‘Southern Gentleman’ code, which the actor spoke about in his evidence, saying it might be considered ‘old-fashioned’.

He said the actor made clear that, according to that code, one does not hit a woman and only retaliates to a man in self defence.

The barrister said the fact Mr Depp had shared a ‘stupid, crude joke’ with Vanessa Paradis did not mean he did not put the Southern Gentleman code into practice ‘the majority of the time’.

He added: ‘He has never hit a woman in his entire life. Period. Full stop. Nada.’

Mr Sherborne said it was ‘not just a Southern Gentleman thing’, but also because Mr Depp had himself been subjected to violence from his mother as a child.

He said: ‘Crucially, not only has he never hit a woman in his life, he has never been accused of it.’

The barrister said that, other than Heard’s allegations, it had been accepted by the defendants that Mr Depp had never been accused of violence by another woman.

He said that was why there was ‘no need’ to call the actor’s former partners Ms Paradis and Winona Ryder to give evidence.

Mr Sherborne also referred to the evidence of actress and #MeToo movement advocate Katherine Kendall, who he said was a ‘genuine MeToo victim’.

In a hard-hitting closing speech, Mr Sherborne questioned the credibility of Heard, claiming that her evidence was ‘shifting’ and ‘inconsistent’.

He reminded the court once again of her testimony that she punched Depp in March 2015 in defence of her sister after hearing a rumour that he had pushed Kate Moss down the stairs when he was dating her.

Mr Sherborne described Heard’s allegation that Depp was violent towards Moss as ‘unscripted malevolence’ which she made up while giving evidence two weeks ago.

He added: ‘This was a gratuitous and totally invented reference to Kate Moss. If you want to see the credibility of the witness that this case is so heavily dependent on, that tells you a lot.

‘This invention shows that Miss Heard’s evidence just can’t be relied upon.’

The court was told that claims by Heard and The Sun’s lawyers that Depp is a violent man are simply not true.

Mr Sherborne added: ‘He’s a generous, warm and gentle individual. He is a peaceful man. He’s not the man that Miss Heard and the defendants have constantly sought to portray.’

He went on to say the court had heard ‘hugely varied accounts … of what went on in the relationship between Mr Depp and Ms Heard’.

He added: ‘It would be easy to lose focus on precisely why we are all here … why the claimant has subjected himself to days of cross-examination.’ 

The barrister played an audio recording of a conversation between the couple in September 2015, in which Ms Heard tells him: ‘I didn’t punch you … I’m sorry that I didn’t hit you across the face in a proper slap, but I was hitting you, it was not punching you. Babe, you’re not punched.’

Heard also says: ‘You didn’t get punched. You got hit. I’m sorry I hit you like this. But I did not punch you. I did not f***ing deck you.’

Mr Sherborne said: ‘If it was a man who had said what Ms Heard said and who had admitted to what she admitted to, this was Mr Depp for example, and it was the other way around, can you imagine what consternation there would be?

‘A straightforward, unambiguous, unequivocal admission of hitting him.’

Later in the hearing, Mr Sherborne referred to the aftermath of an alleged incident of domestic violence on December 15 2015, saying there were witnesses who had evidence ‘about watching Ms Heard be physical’, including Tara Roberts, Depp’s property manager in the Bahamas, who he said had ‘a graphic account… that Ms Heard perpetrated acts of violence on Mr Depp’.

The barrister said these allegations against Ms Heard were relevant because ‘it does not sit, it cannot sit with her narrative of Mr Depp being a wife beater’.

He added: ‘Her physical violence towards him, her starting physical violence as she admits, make her the domestic abuser, not him.’

Mr Sherborne told Mr Justice Nicol that ‘the allegations made against Mr Depp are exceptionally serious’, with the actor accused of ‘repeated violence involving serious physical injury and causing her (Ms Heard) to fear for her life on several occasions’.

He said the fact that Depp has ‘a history of consuming alcohol and taking drugs’ was ‘neither newsworthy nor, quite frankly, probative of anything’, and described the questioning of the actor during the trial about his drink and drug use as ‘a wasteful exercise’.

Mr Sherborne said Mr Depp ‘never denies taking controlled drugs or consuming alcohol’.

‘He admitted it and, if occasionally he was mistaken or forgot exactly when he stopped taking something … it is quite hard to see why that would make any material difference given how candid he has been about his use of certain substances,’ Mr Sherborne said.

He told the court: ‘The defendants’ case has to be more than that he (Mr Depp) took controlled drugs or that he consumed alcohol.’

During the hearing, Mr Sherborne reminded the judge that the burden of proof rests on NGN to prove what it published and said there is a higher standard of proof for the allegations because many are criminal in nature.

The barrister added: ‘This court requires compelling and cogent evidence before it will find that an allegation that someone is guilty of a serious criminal offence is true.’

He said the court needs evidence which is ‘clear, consistent and forceful’.

Mr Sherborne said there are ‘two diametrically opposed accounts’ of what happened in the couple’s relationship, adding: ‘One side is obviously lying and one is telling the truth.’

He told the court that the article referred to ‘overwhelming evidence’ that Depp was violent towards Ms Heard and stated ‘there is a detailed history of domestic abuse incidents, some of which led to her fearing for her life’.

He said: ‘So serious is the charge that is made against Depp that Mr Wootton calls on (JK Rowling) to recast someone else in the role.’

Addressing his own use of the word ‘charge’, the barrister described it as ‘one of the great ironies in this case: there is no charge ever filed against Depp.

‘This is not a mere accusation – the article leaves no room for doubt whatsoever for its readership of millions.’

Mr Sherborne said The Sun and Mr Wootton were ‘acting as both judge and jury, and the defendants plainly and squarely state that Depp is guilty (of a) series of serious and violent criminal offences’.

The court was told how evidence has not been heard ‘from a single journalist’ in relation to the article as Depp’s representative referred sarcastically to the ‘journalistic excellence’ The Sun was seeking to defend.

The barrister said the article was ‘not researched at all’ and that it was presented in a ‘deliberately and wholly one-sided manner’. 

Earlier today, the Pirates of the Caribbean star was greeted on arrival this morning by dozens of fans outside the court with flowers, gifts and banners reading: ‘Justice for Johnny’ and ‘Abuse has no gender. Men can be victims too.’

Depp was bundled through a boisterous crowd by his bodyguards as he arrived at the main entrance dressed in sharp grey suit and sporting a black bandana. 

After making his way to the main steps, he stopped and turned, waving and blowing kisses at his fans as he milked the adulation.

Around 40 other adoring fans, all of them women, lined the inside hall of the court with Depp walking along, hugging and kissing them and thanking them for the support as he made his way for the start of the day’s proceedings.

The court was told yesterday that Depp’s ‘deep misogyny’ was at the root of his anger that manifested as violence towards Heard, as emails and texts were read out in which he used words like ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ to refer to his ex-wife and other women.

It was also heard how the Hollywood star’s self-description as a ‘Southern gentlemen who had respect for women’ was ‘entirely untrue’. 

The hard-hitting claims were made as Sasha Wass QC, representing the Sun newspaper, delivered the defence’s final submission in the high-profile libel case which has rocked the showbiz world with sensational revelations of Depp’s troubled relationship with the Aquaman actress. 

Over the past three weeks, the hearing has heard from Depp, Heard and 25 other witnesses who have provided graphic testimony of their stormy relationship and details of Depp’s excessive use of alcohol and drug binges. 

While Depp was absent yesterday, Heard did attend, and was pictured smiling alongside girlfriend Bianca Butti, before waving at awaiting fans outside the Royal Courts of Justice.  

Ms Wass said there was ‘overwhelming evidence of domestic violence or wife-beating behaviour, cataloged over a three-year period.’ 

She said Depp was ‘a hopeless addict who repeatedly lost his self-control and all ability to restrain his anger.’

‘Permeating all of the evidence in this case is the character of Mr. Depp himself – his well-documented evidence of violence and destruction over his adult life which have occurred when he was under the influence of drink and drugs.’

Ms Wass added that Depp ‘was subject to irrational mood swings and abnormal behavioral patterns, which would not have been present when Mr. Depp was clean and sober, and Mr. Depp has a name for this metamorphosed entity – namely, The Monster.’

She said: ‘The other aspect which is important in terms of substance abuse is Mr Depp’s recollection of his own disgraceful conduct, which is so severely impaired by drug misuse that he may not even have been aware of the extent of his violence and terrifying behaviour which, on more than one of these pleaded incidents, put Ms Heard in fear of her life.’

Depp and Heard met on the set of the 2011 comedy ‘The Rum Diary’ and married in Los Angeles in February 2015. Heard filed for divorce the following year, and the divorce was finalized in 2017.

The former spouses have both been in court during three weeks of testimony at the grand neo-Gothic court building.

Ms Wass reminded Mr Justice Nicol there were ‘well-documented episodes of violence and destruction’ over Depp’s adult life and that the actor had accepted he was violent to inanimate objects but not people.

However, she said there was an incident earlier in his career when he assaulted a photographer with a plank of wood when under the influence of drink and drugs.

She also said his evidence that he was not violent towards people was ‘meaningless’ when he was as intoxicated as he was on occasions and ‘wouldn’t have known what he was doing’.

Ms Wass continued: ‘In answer to what we suggest is overwhelming evidence of domestic violence or wife-beating behaviour, catalogued over a three-year period between 2013 and 2016, Mr Depp’s response is to claim that he is a victim of an elaborate hoax that has been perpetrated against him by Ms Heard and her friends.’

The barrister said Depp had accused Heard and her friends of ‘having painted on injuries, manipulated photographs and destroyed property which they then went on to photograph in order to create what he describes as some sort of insurance policy for Ms Heard’.

Ms Wass added: ‘What exactly Ms Heard was insuring against in the course of this hoax remains unexplained.’

She told the court that such a hoax ‘would have entailed Ms Heard engaging in a pre-planned conspiracy over the period of the entire relationship with Mr Depp’, adding: ‘Such a suggestion, we say, is risible.’

Ms Wass told the court: ‘The approach taken by Mr Depp from the time Ms Heard obtained a domestic violence restraining order against him on May 27 2016 was as follows: to deny that he ever assaulted Ms Heard, to accuse Ms Heard of being the violent party and to reverse his role with hers.’

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