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Johnny Depp Loses Libel Case Against British Tabloid

Movie star Johnny Depp lost a libel case against a British tabloid newspaper that published an article calling him a “wife beater” over his treatment of his former wife Amber Heard.
Johnny Depp’s lawyers said he would appeal the decision. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire/Zuma Press
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Max Colchester
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Nov. 2, 2020 5:02 pm ET

LONDON—Movie star Johnny Depp lost a libel case Monday against a British tabloid newspaper that published an article calling him a “wife beater” over his treatment of his former wife Amber Heard.

An English judge said he found the 57-year-old actor had abused his former wife to the extent that she frequently feared for her life. Mr. Depp’s lawyers say he will appeal the decision.

In 2018, The Sun published an article alleging Mr. Depp was a “wife beater” in an article about his casting in the film “Fantastic Beasts.”

The actor sued for defamation in the English High Court, sparking a closely watched court case in London that laid bare the couple’s tempestuous relationship and saw Ms. Heard give detailed evidence about her former husband’s behavior.

Mr. Depp sued News Group Newspapers Ltd., which owns The Sun and is part of News Corp. The Wall Street Journal is also owned by News Corp.

The allegations of violence spanned the period between 2013 and 2016, when the couple split. The judge said he looked at 14 cases of alleged domestic violence and ruled that, of those, two didn’t occur.

“I have found that the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms. Heard by Mr. Depp have been proved to the civil standard,” the judge, Andrew Nicol, ruled.

The civil standard—a lower bar than the “beyond reasonable doubt” requirement for criminal cases—means that Mr. Nicol decided it was more probable than not that the alleged assaults took place.

The trial, which generated huge media attention, painted a dark picture of the 57-year-old Mr. Depp, who is best known for his role in the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Ms. Heard, 34, gave evidence saying that Mr. Depp’s behavior was largely the result of drug and alcohol abuse. She alleged that at various times during their relationship he slapped her, threw her to the ground and verbally abused her.

During the court case Mr. Depp denied that he was a violent person and gave evidence saying that Ms. Heard had constructed a “hoax” as an insurance policy should the marriage fail and that she was a gold digger.

The judge said he didn’t accept this characterization and pointed to the fact that Ms. Heard had given her $7 million divorce settlement away to charity.

Following the verdict, Ms. Heard—who testified on the newspaper’s behalf—said outside court, “I just wanted to move on with my life…I would have preferred not to be here in court.” She added that she placed her faith in British justice.

“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,” said a spokesperson for The Sun.

“This decision is as perverse as it is bewildering,” Mr. Depp’s U.K. law firm Schillings said on Monday, adding that the actor would appeal the case.

Mr. Depp is separately suing Ms. Heard in a U.S. court over an opinion piece she wrote for the Washington Post with the headline “I spoke up against sexual violence—and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

Write to Max Colchester at max.colchester@wsj.com

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Appeared in the November 3, 2020, print edition as 'Depp Loses Libel Case Against British Paper.'

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