Johnny Depp is “no wife beater” and it is his ex-wife, Amber Heard, who was the “abuser” in the relationship, the actor’s lawyers have told the High Court.
Recordings between the couple show that the Aquaman actress has a “propensity for violence”, the Hollywood star’s legal team alleged.
In closing submissions on the final day of what is the biggest English libel trial of the 21st century, Mr Depp’s barrister, David Sherborne, said the court needed to decide whether the allegation that the Pirates Of The Caribbean actor was “guilty of serious assault on Ms Heard, causing her significant injuries, is true or not”.
Mr Depp is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of The Sun newspaper, and its executive editor Dan Wootton over a 2018 article which alleged he was violent towards Ms Heard, 34, and labelled him a “wife beater”.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Mr Sherborne told the court: “The evidence of Ms Heard being violent herself, especially starting physical fights, is highly relevant.
“At its very core, we say it demonstrates that she is the abuser, not Mr Depp. He is no wife beater.”
He referred to “recordings made between Mr Depp and Ms Heard” which he said “demonstrates Ms Heard’s propensity to violence”.
The barrister played an audio recording of a conversation between the couple in September 2015, in which Ms Heard tells him: “I didn’t punch you … I’m sorry that I didn’t hit you across the face in a proper slap, but I was hitting you, it was not punching you. Babe, you’re not punched.”
Ms Heard also says: “You didn’t get punched. You got hit. I’m sorry I hit you like this. But I did not punch you. I did not f***ing deck you.”
Mr Sherborne said: “If it was a man who had said what Ms Heard said and who had admitted to what she admitted to, this was Mr Depp for example, and it was the other way around, can you imagine what consternation there would be?
“A straightforward, unambiguous, unequivocal admission of hitting him.”
Later in the hearing, Mr Sherborne referred to the aftermath of an alleged incident of domestic violence on December 15 2015, saying there were witnesses who had evidence “about watching Ms Heard be physical”, including Tara Roberts, Mr Depp’s property manager in the Bahamas, who he said had “a graphic account… that Ms Heard perpetrated acts of violence on Mr Depp”.
The barrister said these allegations against Ms Heard were relevant because “it does not sit, it cannot sit with her narrative of Mr Depp being a wife beater”.
He added: “Her physical violence towards him, her starting physical violence as she admits, make her the domestic abuser, not him.”
Mr Sherborne told Mr Justice Nicol that “the allegations made against Mr Depp are exceptionally serious”, with the actor accused of “repeated violence involving serious physical injury and causing her (Ms Heard) to fear for her life on several occasions”.
He said the fact that Mr Depp has “a history of consuming alcohol and taking drugs” was “neither newsworthy nor, quite frankly, probative of anything”, and described the questioning of the actor during the trial about his drink and drug use as “a wasteful exercise”.
Mr Sherborne said Mr Depp “never denies taking controlled drugs or consuming alcohol”.
“He admitted it and, if occasionally he was mistaken or forgot exactly when he stopped taking something … it is quite hard to see why that would make any material difference given how candid he has been about his use of certain substances,” Mr Sherborne said.
He told the court: “The defendants’ case has to be more than that he (Mr Depp) took controlled drugs or that he consumed alcohol.”
During the hearing, Mr Sherborne reminded the judge that the burden of proof rests on NGN to prove what it published and said there is a higher standard of proof for the allegations because many are criminal in nature.
The barrister added: “This court requires compelling and cogent evidence before it will find that an allegation that someone is guilty of a serious criminal offence is true.”
He said the court needs evidence which is “clear, consistent and forceful”.
Mr Sherborne said there are “two diametrically opposed accounts” of what happened in the couple’s relationship, adding: “One side is obviously lying and one is telling the truth.”
Mr Depp was greeted by fans as he arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London on Tuesday.
Screams from around 30 people echoed around the high-vaulted main hall of the law courts as the actor entered the building to hear his lawyers close the case.
The group of fans stood at the bottom of one of the staircases off the main hall and were prevented from getting upstairs to Court 13, where the trial is taking place.
On Monday, lawyers for NGN made their closing submissions, with barrister Sasha Wass QC telling the court that the defence to the article complained about by Mr Depp is “one of truth, namely that Mr Depp did indeed beat his wife”.
She said: “For the defence of truth to be substantiated, the defendants need to prove on a balance of probabilities that Mr Depp assaulted Ms Heard on at least one occasion.
“During the last two weeks, the defendants have established that many more than one incident of wife-beating took place over the course of the relationship between the claimant (Mr Depp) and Amber Heard.”
Mr Depp is suing NGN and its executive editor Mr Wootton over the publication of an article on April 27 2018 with the headline: “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”
NGN is defending the article as true, and says Mr Depp was “controlling and verbally and physically abusive towards Ms Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs”.
Mr Justice Nicol has said that his judgment will be reserved.
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