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Extracts from the judgment in Depp v News Group Newspapers

The following are extracts from the judgment handed down by Mr Justice Nicol in the libel case Depp (The Claimant) brought against News Group Newspapers (The Defendant) EWHC 2911. They are copied and pasted directly from the judgment, which you can read for yourself in full here. The question in this case was whether The Sun newspaper was justified in calling Johnny Depp a ‘wife beater’ in an article published in 2018.

Naturally there’s an element of editorialising when selectively quoting in this way, so I have tried to be as consistent as possible: I’ve quoted from the defendant’s claims describing what took place (the low numbers 47-73) and then matched those with quotes from the judge’s comments on each particular incident (the higher numbers 210-573, in italics). The numbers refer to the paragraphs of the judgment, and letters point to subsections of those, for ease of reference if you’d like to check for yourself and for transparency so you can see where I’ve cut out some of the detail for the sake of brevity.

If you would like to read the detail of the evidence presented, as well as the responses from the claimant (Depp), please do click through and read the full judgment at the link above.

The following includes detailed descriptions of abuse. If you’d rather not read this, feel free to jump to my comments at the end of this (very long) post

Incident 1: early 2013 Los Angeles

47. During a conversation about a tattoo, Ms Heard laughed at something the Claimant had said as she thought he had made a joke. The Claimant responded by repeatedly slapping Ms Heard across the face. The third hit knocked Ms Heard to the floor. After hitting her, the Claimant cried, apologised and tried to explain his behaviour, saying he snaps sometimes into something he called “the monster” and promised he would not do it again.’

210. Seen in isolation, the evidence that Mr Depp assaulted Ms Heard on this occasion might not be sufficient. However, taken with the evidence as a whole, I find that it did occur.

Incident 2: The painting incident 8th March 2013 Los Angeles

49. ‘On or around 8 March 2013, Ms Heard and the Claimant were in her home in Los Angeles. The Claimant was getting drunk and high on drugs and was angry that Ms Heard had hung up a painting given to her by someone she had formerly dated. At one point during this incident, which went on overnight and into the following day, the Claimant tried to set fire to the painting. The Claimant hit Ms Heard so hard that blood from her lip ended up on the wall. At various points the Claimant grabbed Ms Heard hard, shook her and shoved her into a wall. Someone asked Ms Heard’s sister to come over to try to intervene with the Claimant, which she did The Claimant subsequently sent Ms Heard a text message referring to that evening as a ‘disco bloodbath’ and a ‘hideous moment’.

225. x. Overall, I conclude that Mr Depp did assault Ms Heard as she and the Defendants have alleged in Incident 2.

Incident 3: June 2013 Hicksville

51. ‘In June 2013, Ms Heard and the Claimant were in Hicksville, USA with a group including Raquel Rose Pennington, Kristina Sexton, Kelly Sue, Nathan Holmes, and Ms Heard’s sister. The Claimant was taking drugs. When Kelly Sue hugged or touched Ms Heard, the Claimant became enraged and jealous, grabbed Kelly Sue’s wrist, and threatened and hurt her. The Claimant threw glasses at Ms Heard, smashed glass, ripped Ms Heard’s dress, and caused damage to the cabin in which they were staying. Further details of this incident are contained in the Confidential Schedule to the Re-Amended Defence.’

238 iv) The argument and the damage to property are symptomatic of Mr Depp’s manner when ‘the monster’ side of his personality was dominant.

v) I also accept the evidence of Ms Heard that another aspect of ‘the monster’ was that Mr Depp physically assaulted her as she described.

Incident 4: May 2014 incident on private plane flying from Boston to Los Angeles

53. ‘a.3 On or about 24 May 2014, Ms Heard and the Claimant were travelling on a private aeroplane from Boston to Los Angeles. After drinking heavily, the Claimant threw objects at Ms Heard causing her to retreat to a different seat. The Claimant then provocatively pushed a chair at her as she walked by, yelled at her, and taunted her. The Claimant slapped Ms Heard in the face. When Ms Heard stood up, the Claimant kicked her in the back, causing her to fall over. The Claimant threw his boot at her while she was on the ground. The Claimant continued to scream obscenities until he went into the bathroom of the aeroplane and passed out.

265. iv) These verbal insults became, in the course of the flight, physical abuse. Whatever the configuration of the furniture on the plane, Mr Depp managed to kick Ms Heard on her back or bottom. This was more than a ‘playful tap’, contrary to what he and Mr Deuters said in their evidence. Mr Sherborne submitted that Mr Deuters (and Mr Judge) would not have allowed that to happen. I do not accept that submission. Their first loyalty was to Mr Depp.

Incident 5: Bahamas August 2014

55. ‘On or around 17 August 2014 Ms Heard and the Claimant were in the Bahamas on a trip to try to help the Claimant reduce his dependency on prescription painkillers and other drugs. During this trip the Claimant had several manic episodes requiring medical attention, as a result of which Dr David Kipper, the Claimant’s private doctor, was flown in to help assist. The Claimant became angry and kicked and pushed Ms Heard to the ground, slapped her with an open hand, and grabbed her by the hair. During this attack, the Claimant kicked a door so hard that it splintered.’

274. iii) I find it more likely than not that Mr Depp did push Ms Heard on at least one occasion (as reflected in her text of 17th August 2014). I am not able to conclude whether there was more than this one assault.

Incident 6: Los Angeles December 2014

57. ‘In Los Angeles on 17 December 2014, after the Claimant had been violent towards Ms Heard the Claimant sent Ms Heard text messages apologizing for his behaviour and calling himself a “fucking savage” and a “lunatic”.’

278. I am not persuaded that Incident 6 constituted a physical assault of Ms Heard by Mr Depp.

Incident 7: Tokyo January 2015

59. ‘On or around 25 January 2015 Ms Heard and the Claimant were in a hotel room in Tokyo. The Claimant shoved Ms Heard, slapped her, and grabbed her by her hair. When she tried to stand up, the Claimant muscled her back to the floor. He stood over her and yelled and she cried on the floor.’

286 v) I conclude that Mr Depp did assault Ms Heard as she and the Defendants have alleged in Incident 7.

Incident 8: March 2015 Australia

61. ‘a.8 On or around 3 March 2015 Ms Heard and the Claimant were in Australia. The Claimant subjected Ms Heard to a three-day ordeal of physical assault which left her with injuries including a broken lip, swollen nose, and cuts all over her body. On the first day, there was an argument about the Claimant’s drug use after the Claimant took out a bag of MDMA (ecstasy) and Ms Heard confronted him about his drug-taking. The Claimant argued that MDMA was not on his “not allowed” list, which Ms Heard disputed. The Claimant pushed Ms Heard, slapped her, and shoved her to the ground and slapped her again before she retreated to a locked bedroom. The Claimant stayed up all night taking around eight MDMA (ecstasy) pills and drinking alcohol.

a.9 The following morning, the Claimant became physically abusive towards Ms Heard the Claimant swallowed more pills and chased them down with liquor. Ms Heard, concerned about the interaction of the various drugs the Claimant was taking, asked him what else he had taken that day. The Claimant grabbed Ms Heard by the neck and shoved her against the fridge. He said he could crush her neck and told her how easy it would be to do so. The Claimant held Ms Heard by the hair and hit and slapped her in the face. The Claimant screamed at her and grabbed her by the wrist as she tried to leave the room, then violently dropped it and said words to the effect of “leave anyway”. She left the room. The Claimant barged in and attacked Ms Heard. During the course of the day, the Claimant hit Ms Heard multiple times, shoved and pushed her to the ground, choked her, and spat in her face. The Claimant then handed her a liquor bottle that he was drinking from and asked her, “What are you going to do?” When Ms Heard threw the bottle on the floor, the Claimant responded by throwing unopened glass bottles at her.

a.10 That night, the Claimant shoved Ms Heard into a ping pong table, threw bottles through window panels of a glass door, then grabbed Ms Heard and tore off her nightgown. The Claimant grabbed Ms Heard by her neck and choked her against the refrigerator in the kitchen. The Claimant mocked her, touched and grabbed her by her breasts, and repeatedly shoved her up against the refrigerator. The Claimant then grabbed Ms Heard by the neck and collarbone, slammed her against the countertop, and strangled her. The Claimant shook and hit Ms Heard and banged her head against the countertop. Ms Heard’s arms and feet were slashed by the broken glass on the kitchen countertop and floor. She was scared for her life and told the Claimant, “You are hurting and cutting me”. The Claimant ignored her and continued to hit her with the back of one closed hand. At one point the Claimant slammed a hard plastic telephone against a wall with his hand until it smashed. Further details of this incident are contained in the Confidential Schedule to the Re-Amended Defence. The following morning, Ms Heard saw that the Claimant had severely injured his finger, cutting off the tip and believed the injury had probably occurred while the Claimant was smashing the telephone. Once Ms Heard had managed to escape from the Claimant, she barricaded herself in a bedroom.

a.11 The following day, Ms Heard found numerous messages that the Claimant had written to her around the house, on the walls, and on her clothes, written in a combination of oil paint and the blood from his finger. The Claimant also urinated all over the house in an attempt to write messages.’

There are further allegations in the Confidential Schedule to the RAD.

370. xxii) Yet taking all the evidence together, I accept that she was the victim of sustained and multiple assaults by Mr Depp in Australia. It is a sign of the depth of his rage that he admitted scrawling graffiti in blood from his injured finger and then, when that was insufficient, dipping his badly injured finger in paint and continuing to write messages and other things. I accept her evidence of the nature of the assaults he committed against her. They must have been terrifying. I accept that Mr Depp put her in fear of her life.

Incident 9: Los Angeles March 2015 (the staircase incident)

63. ‘In March 2015, Ms Heard, her sister and the Claimant were in Los Angeles. After becoming enraged, the Claimant began to destroy personal property in the house, including Ms Heard’s belongings in her closet. The Claimant also hit Ms Heard hard and repeatedly. When the Claimant then lunged to hit Ms Heard again, Ms Heard’s sister placed herself between them to try to interrupt the fight. The Claimant then turned his attention to Ms Heard’s sister, who was standing at the top of a flight of stairs. The Claimant reached out and shoved Ms Heard’s sister, causing Ms Heard to believe that the Claimant was about to push her sister down the stairs. The Claimant grabbed Ms Heard by the hair with one hand and hit her repeatedly in the head with the other hand.

viii) In short, I accept that Mr Depp did assault Ms Heard as she and the Defendants have alleged in Incident 9.

Incident 10: Southeast Asia August 2015

65. ‘In August 2015, Ms Heard and the Claimant were travelling on the Eastern Oriental train in Southeast Asia. The Claimant picked a fight with Ms Heard, hit her, and pushed her against a wall by grasping her throat and holding her there, causing her to fear for her life.’

396. v) I accept that Ms Heard was assaulted by Mr Depp as she and the Defendants have alleged in Incident 10. I accept that she feared for her life on this occasion.

Incident 11: Los Angeles November 2015

67. ‘On 26 November 2015, Ms Heard and the Claimant were in Los Angeles. The Claimant ripped her shirt and threw her around the room. He threw a wine glass and a heavy glass decanter at her, which missed her. The Claimant also pushed Ms Heard, causing her to fall over the back of a lounge chair and hit her head against a brick wall which resulted in a lump on the back of her head and a split lip.’

405. In this case I agree with Mr Sherborne that the incident should have been put to Mr Depp so that I could have the opportunity of assessing his response. … the omission to put this incident to Mr Depp means that I do not accept that it is proven.

Incident 12: Los Angeles December 2015

67. ‘a.15 On 15 December 2015, Ms Heard and the Claimant were in their penthouse in Los Angeles. The Claimant threw another decanter at her, knocked items around the room and punched the wall. He slapped her hard, grabbed her by her hair, and dragged her through the apartment. In the process, the Claimant pulled large chunks of hair and scalp out of Ms Heard’s head.

a.16 Ms Heard tried to escape the violence by going upstairs. The Claimant followed Ms Heard, hit her in the back of her head, again grabbed her by her hair, then dragged her by her hair up the last few steps. At the top of the stairs, the Claimant shoved her twice, which made her fear that she would fall. Ms Heard told the Claimant that he had broken her wrist in an attempt to get him to stop.

a.17 The Claimant repeatedly hit Ms Heard, knocking her to the floor. Each time Ms Heard was knocked down, she stood back up. The Claimant responded by yelling, “Oh, you think you’re a fucking tough guy?” He then head-butted her in her face, bashing her nose, which immediately began bleeding and caused her searing pain. When a few days later, on 20 December 2015, Ms Heard said to the Claimant, “You head-butted me”, he responded, “I just gave you a little knock with my head”. The Claimant then said what a “fuck up” he was and left the room. Later during the evening of 15 December 2015, Ms Heard told the Claimant that she wanted to leave him, and that she would call the police if he ever touched her again. When she then began to walk away towards the guest apartment, the Claimant pushed her. He then grabbed her and pulled her from one room to the next, gripping her by her hair.

a.18 By the time the Claimant had dragged Ms Heard into the upstairs office, she had told him she was leaving him as she could not put up with his behaviour any longer. The Claimant reacted by grabbing Ms Heard by her throat, pushing her down to the ground, and punching her in the back of her head. The Claimant grabbed Ms Heard by her hair, slapped her in the face, and screamed at her, “I fucking will kill you – I’ll fucking kill you, you hear me?” or similar words.

a.19 The fight continued onto a bed. The Claimant got on top of Ms Heard and placed his knee on her back and the other foot on the bedframe while repeatedly punching her in her head. The Claimant screamed, “I fucking hate you” over and over again. The bedframe splintered under the weight of the pressure of the Claimant’s boot. The Claimant hit Ms Heard with his closed fists, pushed her face into the mattress, and pulled out chunks of her hair. Ms Heard screamed and feared for her life. She suffered severe headaches and other pain for at least a week after this incident.

455. xv) For all of these reasons, I accept that Mr Depp assaulted Ms Heard as she and the Defendants have alleged in Incident 12.

Incident 13: 21st April 2016 (the birthday party)

71. ‘8.b On 21 April 2016 Ms Heard had a birthday celebration with friends at the couple’s property at 849 South Broadway, Los Angeles (“the South Broadway apartment”). The Claimant arrived, drunk and high on drugs. After the guests had left the Claimant and Ms Heard had a conversation about his absence from the celebration. This deteriorated into an argument. The Claimant threw a magnum sized bottle of champagne at Ms Heard which missed and hit a wall and threw a glass of wine over Ms Heard, which smashed.

8.c The Claimant then grabbed Ms Heard by the shoulders, pushed her onto a bed, and blocked the bedroom door when she tried to leave. The Claimant then grabbed Ms Heard by the hair and violently shoved her to the floor. The Claimant screamed at and threatened Ms Heard, taunting her to stand up and saying “You really think you’re that tough, huh? Tough guy” and similar words. When she stood up, the Claimant shoved her down again. Ms Heard eventually escaped from the bedroom and walked through the office, at which point the Claimant pushed Ms Heard and grabbed her by the back of her hair. Ms Heard then returned to the bedroom and the Claimant pushed her again. When Ms Heard lifted her arms to defend herself, the Claimant pushed them down and bumped his chest into hers, causing her to fall back onto the bed. Ms Heard tried to walk past the Claimant to leave the bedroom, but he pushed her to the floor. After this he stormed out of the apartment, tossing aside and smashing items as he left. The Claimant left Ms Heard a note which said, “Happy Fucking Birthday”.’

476. iv) He assaulted Ms Heard as he had done on previous occasions when he was stressed.

Incident 14: Los Angeles 21st May 2016

73. e. During a conversation with Ms Heard the Claimant became very angry. Ms Heard tried to calm him down by telephoning one of his trusted employees and asking him to intervene, but this was unsuccessful.

f. The Claimant became increasingly enraged. Ms Heard became concerned for her safety and texted Ms Pennington who was by now in her apartment next door, asking Ms Pennington to come back over.

g. The Claimant insisted that Ms Heard call their friend iO Tillet Wright, which Ms Heard attempted to do. The Claimant ripped the phone from Ms Heard’s hand and began screaming profanities and insults. The Claimant then tossed the phone away and stormed upstairs. Ms Heard picked it up and iO Tillet Wright yelled over the phone to Ms Heard to get out of the house. After a short period upstairs, The Claimant came back down the stairs then grabbed the phone again and this time threw it at Ms Heard, striking her cheek and eye. Ms Heard sustained an injury to her right eye. Ms Pennington and/or Mr Drew subsequently took photographs of the injury as well as of items which the Claimant smashed.

h. Ms Heard covered her face and was crying with pain. The Claimant charged at her. He forcibly pulled back her hair and Ms Heard attempted to get up from the sofa. Ms Heard called out “Call 911”, hoping this would be heard by iO Tillet Wright who was still on the phone. The Claimant shouted “I hit your eye? I hit your eye, huh? Let me see your eye. Let me see. Let me see your eye. What if I pulled your hair back? Let’s see how hard I hit you”, pulled Ms Heard’s hair, struck Ms Heard and violently grabbed her face. The Claimant started to slap, shake and yank Ms Heard around the room while she continued to scream.
i. Ms Pennington entered the flat, at which point Ms Heard escaped from the Claimant’s grasp and moved to the other side of the room. The Claimant charged at Ms Heard again. Ms Pennington ran between them, extending her arms to separate them and begged the Claimant to stop. The Claimant then grabbed Ms Pennington’s arms and continued to yell obscenities.

573. vi) I reach the view that Mr Depp did assault Ms Heard as she alleges in Incident 14

Contains information licensed under the Open Justice – Licence v1.0.

Depp v Heard: My comments

Above are extracts from the UK libel trial that Depp lost against News Group Newspapers (who publish The Sun newspaper, including the article which called Depp a ‘wife beater’, published in April 2018). As you can see from the above, at that time Heard helped NGN prove assault/abuse to the satisfaction of the court in 12 out of 14 instances. Depp has tried to appeal this decision, but his request to appeal has been denied on the grounds that it has no real prospect of success and there is no other compelling reason for it to be heard. Some brief analysis here.

There is a new libel case on which a jury is deliberating right now. This one was brought by Depp against Heard in Virginia, on the basis of a Washington Post article which made no new claims but mentioned that in 2016 Heard ‘became a public figure representing domestic abuse’. During the media hellstorm surrounding it, a few people have asked me for my thoughts on Heard. They are usually fishing for comments on ‘mutual abuse’ or a ‘toxic relationship’. Not an answer to a factual question like ‘was Heard subjected to abuse?’, but an opinion on her character. I sense that what they’re after is for me to agree that Heard is abusive, cruel, manipulative, lying, or bad in some other way: that she ‘deserved’, ‘asked for’, ‘exacerbated’ or ‘invented’ the incidents detailed above.

Until now I have avoided these conversations, not only because her character is irrelevant to whether or not she ‘became a public figure representing domestic abuse’, but also because I didn’t want to delve into the detail – it’s disturbing. Abuse had already been proven to the satisfaction of a UK libel court. Although a civil standard is not the same as a criminal one, UK libel courts are still notoriously more favourable to claimants than in the US, because UK libel laws put the burden of proof on the publisher. What’s more, the case itself involved a far more extreme statement than the one under discussion in Virginia: the claim that Depp is a ‘wife-beater’ versus the claim that Heard ‘became a public figure representing domestic abuse.’

To put this in really simple terms: Depp already fought this case on ‘easy’ mode, and lost.

I found it uncomfortable that the courts in Virginia were not only allowing a similar case to go ahead, but to proceed in front of cameras which would inevitably bring down a shitstorm of horror on anyone taking the stand. Better people than me have explained in detail why this is a problem, and why the question ‘did Amber Heard become a public figure representing abuse?’ is actually extremely straightforward.

Now that I’ve sat down and read the full judgment in the UK case, and watched the closing arguments in the Virginia one too, I am ready to offer an answer to those who ask me to comment on Amber Heard’s character.

My answer is as follows: nope.