High Court judge rules Johnny Depp libel trial against Sun can go ahead next week

Johnny Depp’s libel claim against The Sun newspaper over allegations he was violent towards ex-wife Amber Heard will go ahead next week, following a High Court ruling.

The 57-year-old actor is suing the tabloid’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, and its executive editor Dan Wootton over an April 2018 article that referred to Depp as a “wife beater”.

The article related to allegations made against Depp by actress Heard, 34, that he was violent towards her during their marriage – claims he strenuously denies.

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In a last-ditch attempt to derail the High Court trial, due to start next Tuesday, NGN’s legal team had asked Mr Justice Nicol to strike out Depp’s claim.

Adam Wolanski QC argued the Hollywood star was in “serious” breach of a court order because he had not given NGN’s legal team what he referred to as the “Australia drugs texts” between Depp and his assistant, Nathan Holmes.

Mr Justice Nicol found on Monday that Depp had breached an “unless order” requiring him to disclose documents from separate libel proceedings against Heard in the US – which include the text messages.

However, in a ruling on Thursday, the judge said he would grant Depp’s application for “relief from sanctions”, meaning the trial will go ahead as planned.

The judge said his decision was conditional on Depp giving an undertaking that he will not seek sanctions against Heard for allegedly breaching a court order, made during separate libel proceedings in the US, by providing The Sun’s legal team with evidence.

During a hearing last week, Wolanski said the messages, sent in late February and early March 2015 – shortly before an alleged incident in Australia between Depp and Heard, which she claims was “a three-day ordeal of physical assaults” – demonstrated that Depp was trying to get drugs during the Australia visit.

He told the court that references to “happy pills” and “whitey stuff” showed Depp was trying to obtain MDMA and cocaine, which he argued was “profoundly damaging to his case”.

The alleged incident in Australia is one of 14 separate allegations of domestic violence, between early 2013 and May 2016, that NGN relies on in its pleaded defence to Depp’s claim.

Mr Justice Nicol refused an application by Depp’s legal team for an order requiring Heard to disclose evidence, including a covert audio recording made of a conversation between herself and her former husband in July 2016.

The actor had also asked for “all communications” between Heard and a contact saved in her phone as “Rocketman”, who Depp claims is SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk, and between her and actor James Franco.

David Sherborne, representing Depp, told the court on Monday that Heard had “two extra-marital affairs” or “extra-relationship affairs” with Musk and Franco while she was going out with/married to Depp.

The barrister said this was relevant to the actor’s case “because part of the defendants’ case or Heard’s position is that it was Depp’s supposed paranoia and mistaken belief that she was having affairs that caused him to be violent”.

However, rejecting the application, Mr Justice Nicol said: “The central issue for the defence of truth is whether Mr Depp assaulted Ms Heard.

“Even if she had been unfaithful to him, that would be irrelevant on that central issue.

“I am not therefore persuaded that these categories of documents are necessary for the fair disposal of the litigation.”

A three-week trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in London – which was due to start in March, but was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic – is listed to begin next Tuesday, with Depp’s former partners Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder among the witnesses expected to give evidence.

The court has heard Depp intends to travel from his home in France to London to give evidence, while Heard is believed to have already travelled to the UK from California.

The libel claim against NGN and Wootton arises out of publication of an article in The Sun in April 2018, under the headline: “Gone Potty – How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

Depp has brought separate libel proceedings against Heard in the US, which the court heard are set for trial next year.

The pair met on the set of 2011 comedy The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015.

In May 2016, Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp after accusing him of abuse, which he denied.

The couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Heard donating her $7m (£5.5m) settlement to charity.

Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

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