Johnny Depp will have to disclose audio recordings of conversations between him and his ex-wife Amber Heard, as part of his libel claim against a British tabloid newspaper.
The Hollywood actor is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), the publishers of the Sun, and its executive editor Dan Wootton, over an article that alleged he was violent and abusive towards Heard and that referred to him as a “wife-beater”.
At a hearing in London last week, lawyers for Depp and for NGN, asked Mr Justice Nicol to rule on a number of matters in dispute, including issues relating to disclosure of the actor’s text messages.
The judge ordered that Depp must make further disclosure – the handing over of evidence before a trial – in relation to audio tapes of the conversations he had with Heard during their relationship.
Lawyers for the Pirates Of The Caribbean actor told the court last week that the recordings, which have been the subject of recent press reports, include Heard appearing to discuss having been physically violent towards Depp.
David Sherborne, representing Depp, said the evidence “demonstrates in her own voice that she was not a victim of domestic abuse, but rather that she was the aggressor”.
He added that, in the recordings, Heard is apparently heard to say that no one would believe Depp if he claimed to be a victim of domestic violence.
The judge also ordered further disclosure from Depp in relation to documents from the couple’s divorce proceedings, and to provide more detail to show what steps he had taken to obtain his medical records. However, the judge refused NGN’s application for further disclosure in relation to text messages sent by Depp to his friend, British actor Paul Bettany.
During the hearing on 26 February, lawyers for NGN said texts sent by Depp during his relationship with Heard were “very damaging” to his case.
Adam Wolanski QC said Depp’s previous legal team, from whom he parted company on 11 February, had “accidentally” disclosed 70,000 text messages to NGN’s lawyers. The barrister said the messages included texts sent to actor Paul Bettany, in November 2013, in which Depp wrote: “Let’s burn Amber.”
He also allegedly wrote: “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead.”
The libel claim, against NGN and Wootton, arises out of publication of an article in the Sun in April 2018, under the headline “Gone potty – how can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”.
Depp contends that the meaning of the article is that he was “guilty, on overwhelming evidence, of serious domestic violence against his then wife, causing significant injury and leading to her fearing for her life, which [he] was then constrained to pay no less than £5m to compensate her, and which resulted in him being subjected to a continuing court restraining order; and for that reason is not fit to work in the film industry”.
The meaning of the article, which NGN will seek to prove is true at trial, is that Depp “beat his wife Amber Heard, causing her to suffer significant injury and on occasion leading to her fearing for her life”.
Sherborne told the earlier hearing that Depp hoped to “achieve vindication” for the widely publicised allegations at a public trial.
Depp sat in court behind his lawyers throughout last week’s hearing, which dealt with case management issues before a 10-day trial set for 23 March.
Sherborne said the evidence in the case was “diametrically opposed” and said Heard’s allegations dated back to the early stage of the couple’s relationship in 2013, before they married in 2015.
The court heard a number of witnesses would either attend the trial or appear over a video link, many from California, to give evidence in support of either Depp or Heard.
An order made by Nicol revealed that actress Amanda de Cadenet, a friend of Heard, would give evidence over a video link.
Depp has brought separate libel proceedings against Heard in the US, which Sherborne said were ongoing.
Depp and Heard met on the set of 2011 comedy The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015.