Johnny Depp plans to appeal Sun libel judgment that cost him Fantastic Beasts role

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp has said he plans to appeal a High Court libel judgment that found against him this week and vindicated a Sun article calling the Hollywood actor a “wife beater”.

Depp, 57, said he had agreed to resign as villain Grindelwald in Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts movies as a result of the judgment, which was handed down on Monday.

The Pirates of the Caribbean star sued Sun publisher News Group Newspapers and its executive editor Dan Wootton over a 2018 article that referred to “overwhelming evidence” Depp had been violent towards ex-wife Amber Heard during their relationship.

The article was headlined: “GONE POTTY How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

In his ruling, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed Depp’s claim, saying NGN had proved the contents of the article to be “substantially true”.

The Sun relied on 14 alleged assaults by Depp towards Heard in defending its journalism as true. The judge said 12 of the allegations had “been proved to the civil standard”. Depp denies all allegations.

In a statement on his official Instagram account today, the film star said: “The Surreal judgment of the court in the UK will not change my fight to tell the truth and I confirm that I plan to appeal.

“My resolve remains strong and I intend to prove that the allegations against me are false. My life and career will not be defined by this moment in time.”

Depp’s lawyers, from the law firm Schillings, have described the High Court’s decision as “flawed”, adding it was “as perverse as it is bewildering”.

After its legal victory, the Sun said: “The Sun has stood up and campaigned for the victims of domestic abuse for over twenty years.

“Domestic abuse victims must never be silenced and we thank the Judge for his careful consideration and thank Amber Heard for her courage in giving evidence to the court.”

Depp has also brought a $50m (£39m) defamation suit against Heard in the US over a column she wrote in the Washington Post in December 2018.

But lawyer Amber Melville-Brown of London law firm Withersworldwide told PA that the ruling in the UK High Court could “stop the US proceedings in its tracks”.

She said that, while the accusations in the US case may be “slightly different”, the burden of proof in English libel courts is “much higher” than those in the US.

Melville-Brown, who is head of the law firm’s media and reputation team, added: “Accordingly, Depp’s failure to convince a British judge to that higher standard may sink the American libel ship of Hollywood’s most famous pirate of the Caribbean.”

University of Sunderland media law expert Carole Watson has described the Depp vs News Group Newspapers case as a watershed for journalism students preparing to enter the news industry.

“The truth defence is a difficult one for the media to use,” she said of the case. “You need to prove in court, ‘on the balance of probabilities’, that what you have published is substantially true.

“The Sun famously used it successfully in 1994 when EastEnders actress Gillian Taylforth sued them over a page one story titled TV Kathy’s ‘sex romp’ fury.

“You need credible witnesses and evidence, and the Sun brought more than just Amber Heard’s word against Depp’s. The fact domestic violence usually occurs behind closed doors must also have been a factor for Mr Justice Nicol when ruling he believed the story.”

Watson, who is also a member of journalism training body the NCTJ’s media law exams board, added: “Many newspapers, suffering falling sales and advertising, shy away from defending their journalists and their stories to save potentially huge legal bills. It’s easier to cut your losses and run.

“So the Depp cases is a great lesson in press freedom, for my students, and that some will stick to their guns in the face of the powerful and famous.”

Depp and Heard met on the set of The Rum Diary movie, in which Heard also starred. Both stars made appearances during the high-profile libel trial, which lasted for 16-days, despite Covid-19.

Picture: PA

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