Johnny Depp “is not and never has been a wife beater” and his libel action against The Sun newspaper is “not a case about money” but about “vindication”, his lawyers have told the High Court.
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”.
He also argued that Mr Depp’s ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, has “invented these stories of serious violence” and that she was the “abuser” in the relationship.
Mr 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 Mr Depp by Ms Heard, 34, that he was violent towards her during their marriage – claims he strenuously denies.
In his written opening remarks, Mr 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, Mr Sherborne gave a summary of the main allegations of domestic violence at the heart of the case.
He said it is Mr 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.”
Mr Sherborne said the article written by Mr Wootton “repeated Ms Heard’s allegations, referring to what he described as ‘overwhelming evidence’ in her favour, 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 Mr 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.
Mr 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.”