In a written opening note at the start of the three-week trial in London, the actor’s lead counsel, David Sherborne, said the Hollywood star has come to court “to clear his reputation.”
Depp, 57, is suing the tabloid’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, and executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an article which called him a “wife-beater.” The article related to allegations made against Depp by Heard, 34, that he was violent towards her during their marriage – claims he strenuously denies.
In his written opening remarks, Sherborne said that one of the issues the court needs to decide is “whether the allegations published by the defendants are true.”
“If it finds that they are untrue, as we say they are, then the court will proceed to make an award of damages,” he said.
“It will come as no surprise to hear that this is not a case about money. It is about vindication. Mr Depp has made that clear at various hearings. That is why he has come here – to clear his reputation.”
In his note, Sherborne gave a summary of the main allegations of domestic violence at the heart of the case. He said it is Depp’s case that he “did not attack Ms Heard on these occasions or at all.”
“Ms Heard has invented these stories of serious violence,” the barrister said. “He (Depp) is not and never has been a wife-beater. Indeed, he says that it was Ms Heard who was the one who started physical fights, who punched or hit him (and there was little he could really do to stop this); she was the abuser, not him. And the contemporaneous evidence fully supports that, as the court will hear.”
Sherborne said the article written by Wootton “repeated Ms Heard’s allegations, referring to what he described as ‘overwhelming evidence’ in her favor, in an obvious attempt to confirm categorically in the readers’ minds, several million readers’ minds, that these appalling and serious allegations of criminality were true”.
He added that Wootton and The Sun newspaper “also chose to make deliberate and highly topical references to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements” as well as to disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Sherborne went on: “The starkly contrasting nature of the evidence given by Mr Depp and Ms Heard is one of the defining features of this case, and the court will obviously need to resolve their conflicting testimonies. There is no real room for a middle ground here.
“One side is plainly lying, and to an extraordinary extent. Either Ms Heard’s allegations are true, in all their various forms now, and therefore Mr Depp has chosen to launch and pursue a lengthy libel claim despite knowing that the article which forms the subject matter of the claim is completely true.
“Or, as we say, Ms Heard has concocted them, embellishing and adding to them over the years … which means that Mr Depp is right in seeking vindication before this court from a hugely influential newspaper that sought to act as judge (and jury) by endorsing and convicting him in relation to Ms Heard’s allegations, not to mention demanding an end to his career as the punishment he supposedly deserved.
“You might be forgiven for wondering why would Mr Depp put himself through all of this process otherwise, i.e. if he were in fact guilty. That is the determination for this court. Mr Depp is either guilty of being a wife beater for having assaulted his ex-wife on numerous occasions, causing the most appalling injuries, or he has been very seriously and wrongly accused.”
In its opening argument, News Group Newspapers lawyers said the description of Depp as a “wife-beater” was accurate.
In a written opening note, Sasha Wass QC, barrister for News Group Newspapers, said: “The defendants will demonstrate that the description of Mr Depp as a ‘wife beater’ is entirely accurate and truthful.
“They will show that the sting of the articles is correct – namely that the claimant beat his wife Amber Heard, causing her to suffer significant injury and on occasion leading to her fearing for her life.
“This defence is supported by witness testimony, medical evidence, photographs, video, audio recordings, digital evidence and Mr Depp’s own texts.”
In her note, Wass described Heard as an “intelligent and independent woman who has developed her own career as an actress”.
She said: “Her independence and self-determination gave rise to a series of conflicts between the two, with Mr Depp seeking to control Ms Heard’s social life and career choices. Ms Heard was forging her own way in the acting profession and was not content to play the role of a supplicant consort.
“As a result of her having her own career, disputes between the two increasingly arose where Ms Heard’s professional life clashed with Mr Depp’s desire to dominate the relationship.
“These conflicts manifested themselves in arguments where Mr Depp became abusive and aggressively jealous, on occasion falsely accusing Ms Heard of having sexual relationships with her co-stars. Matters were not helped by the generational difference between Ms Heard and Mr Depp which fueled Mr Depp’s insecurity.
“This exacerbated his well-documented dependence and excessive abuse of alcohol and controlled drugs which dated back to Mr Depp’s time as a young man.”
Wass said that during the relationship, Ms Heard was “understanding and supportive” of all Depp’s attempts to rehabilitate himself” and during the early period of his attempts to “kick his addiction” he was “appreciative” of her support.
But she said that on occasions, when he “failed to control his alcohol and substance abuse”, Depp “turned his rage and frustration on Ms Heard, berating her and launching into a variety of vile, crude and unreasonable accusations.”
Wass said: “On such occasions, Mr Depp’s aggression typically descended into physically destructive behaviour, including the use of violence against her. His ‘wife-beating’ behaviour included throwing objects at her, slapping her across the face, kicking her, gripping her around the throat and threatening to kill her.
“In periods of sobriety following Mr Depp’s destructive rages, he recognised the problems he faced, apologised to Ms Heard and blamed what he described as ‘his illness’. He referred to his drunken and violent persona as ‘the monster.’
“When sober, Mr Depp was capable of kindness, charm and generosity. The side of character which he described as ‘the monster’ was jealous, controlling, violent and savage. It is these characteristics which qualify him for the term ‘wife-beater’.”
The trial continues.