Libel case against Sun newspaper over term ‘wife-beater’ begins in UK high court

Amber Heard, not Johnny Depp, was the one who started fights during their marriage, the high court has been told at the start of a libel battle involving the divorced Hollywood actors.

It was Heard who was “the abuser” and who invented claims that her former partner was a “wife-beater”, according to an opening statement submitted to the court by Depp’s barrister, David Sherborne.

The trial in the Royal Courts of Justice is expected to last three weeks and has been spread across five courts to allow for social distancing and to accommodate the media.

The case, Sherborne explained, concerned allegations that Johnny Depp “seriously physically assaulted his former wife, the actress, Amber Heard. Not just once but on at least 14 different occasions it is now said, causing her such serious injuries and being so violent that it led Ms Heard to fear for her very life.”

The libel claim, however, has been brought not against Heard but against the Sun newspaper and its executive editor, Dan Wootton, for an article about Depp which included the term “wife-beater”.

Heard had “initiated” the allegations in 2016 at the time of their divorce, Sherborne said, using them “very publicly, to obtain an ex parte temporary restraining order” against Depp.

Heard, Sherborne said, had appeared at a Los Angeles courthouse in May 2016, “trailed by photographers and sporting what appeared to be obvious bruises to her face which were no doubt designed to be a visual demonstration of her primary incident of alleged violence”.

But police officers trained in dealing with domestic violence who attended the incident had not seen “any injuries on the night they were allegedly sustained, or on the next few days”, Sherborne said.

“There is a substantial body of evidence (including from these and other witnesses) which clearly demonstrates that this was a lie manufactured by Ms Heard and her friends.

“The alleged incidents have expanded and become embellished, and even changed character, quite dramatically over the years since then.”

Depp’s account, he said, was that he did not attack Heard at all. “Ms Heard has invented these stories of serious violence. He is not and never has been a wife-beater,” Sherborne said.

“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.”

Depp, 57, went into the witness box after Sherborne’s statement was submitted – although it was not read out in court.

Wearing glasses, a grey suit, white shirt and dark tie, he answered questions in an initially halting voice.

He had avoided confrontation in their relationship, he recalled. “Whenever these situations would escalate, I would try and go to my own corner. I wanted to separate before things got out of hand.”

Several times, Depp was asked to speak up. He apologised and said: “I have a tendency to talk quiet.”

Heard attended the hearing on Tuesday. Her spokesperson said in a statement outside court before the trial: “Amber was never asked for these proceedings to take place. Amber obtained a domestic violence restraining order against Depp back in 2016 and has tried to moved on with her life.

“It is Johnny Depp who brought these proceedings against a British newspaper and has dragged her to to the UK courts to give evidence on some of the most distressing moments of her life.”

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