10:07, March 20 416 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-20 10:07:04
Johnny Depp's libel case against the Sun in high court adjourned

Johnny Depp’s libel case against the Sun over allegations he was violent and abusive towards his ex-wife Amber Heard, which was due to begin on Monday, has been adjourned to a later date.

Mr Justice Nicol made the announcement at the high court on Friday. “I have reached the reluctant conclusion that the trial does have to be adjourned,” he said.

The Pirates Of The Caribbean star, 56, is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), the publishers of the Sun, and the newspaper’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article which referred to him as a “wife-beater”.

A two-week trial was due to begin in London on Monday, at which Depp, Heard and a number of Hollywood figures were expected to give evidence.

Mr Justice Nicol was told on Wednesday that the worldwide spread of Covid-19 meant the trial might need to be adjourned, but at a hearing to determine whether the trial should go ahead on Friday, Adam Wolanski QC, for NGN, said Depp wanted the trial to be adjourned “not because of the coronavirus, but because he cannot face the prospect of his lies about his relationship being exposed because he’s a coward and because he knows he’s going to lose”.

Wolanski told the court that Heard, 33, who is giving evidence in the Sun’s defence, was “prepared to move heaven and earth to make this trial happen and to come and give evidence”.

He said: “She is currently in California, but despite all the travel problems that exist and despite the risks to her health of travelling, she has found a flight leaving Los Angeles today.”

“It is essential to Ms Heard that the ordeal that Mr Depp has subjected her to for many years is brought to an end.

“She explains that he has used, for many years, his physical, financial and professional power to embarrass and harass her and people around her, including witnesses in this case.”

Lawyers for Depp told the court he was unable to attend the trial because he was in France, which is in lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and was also unable to give evidence via videolink.

Wolanski read out a text message Depp sent to Christian Carino in August 2016, in which he said of Heard: “She is begging for global humiliation. She is going to get it.”

He described Heard as “gold-digging, low-level, dime-a-dozen, mushy, pointless”.

Depp bemoaned “that time I blew on a 50-cent stripper” and added: “I would not touch her with a goddamn glove.” The text concluded: “Now I will stop at nothing.”

Wolanski said: “And he has stopped at nothing.” He submitted that Depp had conducted a “sustained campaign of vicious leaks and smears”, and that Heard wanted the trial to go ahead so “the four-year campaign of abuse by Depp can be brought to an end”.

Jennifer Afia, representing Depp, said her client was “extremely keen for these proceedings to proceed as soon as possible so that he can vindicate his reputation”,

but that the worldwide spread of Covid-19 required the court and the parties “to be realistic, responsible and, above all, to be safe”.

She said it was likely that London would go into full lockdown in the coming days or weeks. “As much as he wants to be here on Monday in person, he will physically not be able to attend,” she said.

“If Mr Depp cannot get here, there is no possibility he can give evidence via videolink from his remote location in the south of France.”

The libel claim against NGN and Wootton arises from the publication of an article in the Sun in April 2018 that ran under a headline that referred to Depp as a “wife-beater”.

Depp has brought separate libel proceedings against Heard in the US, which the court has previously heard are ongoing.

Depp and Heard met on the set of the 2011 comedy The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015.

Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp in May 2016 after accusing him of abuse, which he denied.

The couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017. Heard donated her $7m (£5.5m) settlement to charity.