Johnny Depp claims High Court judge 'was not particularly interested' in evidence against Amber Heard in Sun libel trial

Johnny Depp asks for Sun libel appeal

Johnny Depp must wait to find out whether he can bring an appeal against a damning High Court ruling in The Sun’s favour that he assaulted ex-wife Amber Heard and left her in “fear for her life”.

Following a three-week trial in July last year, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the Hollywood star’s libel claim against the publisher of The Sun, finding that an April 2018 column calling Depp a “wife beater” was “substantially true”.

The judge ruled Depp, 57, assaulted Heard, 34, on a dozen occasions and put her in “fear for her life” three times.

The actor is now asking the Court of Appeal to grant permission for him to challenge the ruling, with the aim of having its findings overturned and a retrial ordered.

Neither Depp nor Heard attended the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Thursday.

At the hearing, Depp’s lawyers asked the court to consider fresh evidence relating to what they said was Heard’s claim that she gave her $7m (£5.5m) divorce settlement to charity.

His barrister Andrew Caldecott QC told the court that claim was a “calculated and manipulative lie”.

After the couple divorced in 2016, Heard said she would split the $7m between the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

But, Caldecott said, the hospital wrote to Depp’s business adviser in 2019 to say Heard had not made “any payments”.

The court heard she gave just $100,000 (£72,000) to the hospital and $450,000 (£322,000) to the ACLU, although she claims she made a further $500,000 (£358,000) donation to the second charity anonymously.

Caldecott said the claims had given Heard “a considerable boost to her credibility as a person”, and had “tipped the scales against Depp from the very beginning”.

In November, Mr Justice Nicol rejected Depp’s contention that Heard was a “gold-digger”, saying in his ruling: “Her donation of the $7m to charity is hardly the act one would expect of a gold-digger.”

But Caldecott argued that if “the truth about the charity claim emerged at the trial, it would have materially affected Mr Justice Nicol’s consideration of Ms Heard’s evidence as a whole”.

He said the fact Heard publicly donated her divorce settlement to charity was relevant to “the likelihood of her being a victim of grave domestic violence”.

Caldecott said the donation was “a wholly remarkable act of philanthropy, if true”, adding it was also “a potent subliminal message: ‘I want him to pay, but I do not want to keep a dime of his money because of the way I have been treated’”.

He told the court: “In the context of this case, it implies revulsion at the way he has treated her physically.”

Caldecott also said Mr Justice Nicol “had a very favourable starting point of Ms Heard” and “was not particularly interested” in evidence adverse to her.

But Adam Wolanski QC, representing The Sun’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN), said the new evidence Depp wanted to rely on “would not have had any impact” on the result of the trial.

He said the issue of donating the settlement to charity was only of relevance to “the so-called ‘gold-digger’ thesis, and that was of course a thesis that was expressly abandoned by Mr Depp’s legal team during the trial”.

Wolanski added: “The labelling of Ms Heard as a gold-digger was a misogynistic trope. The gold-digger theory was hopeless.”

He also rejected Depp’s contention that Heard had lied about donating her divorce settlement to charity, saying: “The information does not demonstrate that Ms Heard lied.”

Wolanski added that Heard had paid “in total, some $950,000 to the ACLU and $850,000 to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles”.

At the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing, Lord Justice Underhill – sitting with Lord Justice Dingemans – said the court would give its ruling at a later date.

He said: “We are not going to reach an immediate decision today… we will make it very shortly.”

Depp sued NGN in June 2018 over the column by The Sun’s executive editor Dan Wootton, which referred to “overwhelming evidence” he attacked Heard.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Nicol concluded 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence relied on by NGN in its defence of the actor’s claim did occur.

The judge also found Depp put Heard in “fear for her life” on three occasions, including one the actress described as a “three-day hostage situation” in Australia in March 2015.

Just days after the ruling in November, Depp announced he had been asked by Warner Brothers to resign from his role in the Harry Potter spin-off franchise Fantastic Beasts – the very role which prompted Wootton to ask how JK Rowling could be “genuinely happy” Depp was cast in the film.

Depp is embroiled in a separate libel battle in the US, having sued Heard personally over a 2018 Washington Post opinion piece in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse but did not mention the actor by name.

The actor’s $50m (£35m) US case against Heard was recently delayed until April 2022.

Picture: PA Wire/Yui Mok

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