Cheers echoed around the Royal Courts of Justice as Johnny Depp arrived at the famous London building for the final day of his libel trial against The Sun newspaper.
Lawyers for the Hollywood A-lister are making final submissions on Tuesday as the biggest English libel trial of the 21st century draws to a close.
Mr Depp is suing the tabloid’s publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN) and its executive editor Dan Wootton over a 2018 article which alleged he was violent towards his ex-wife, Amber Heard, 34, and labelled him a “wife beater”.
David Sherborne, representing Mr Depp, 57, told the court the action has been brought because the newspaper and Mr Wootton “chose to publish this extremely serious allegation” which Mr Depp has always maintained is “completely untrue”.
Screams from around 30 Johnny Depp fans echoed around the high-vaulted main hall of the law courts on Tuesday morning 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.
At the start of the hearing, Mr Sherborne began by telling Mr Justice Nicol: “It would be easy to lose focus on precisely why we are all here … why the claimant has subjected himself to days of cross-examination.”
He said: “On April 27 2018, The Sun published an article under the headline ‘How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?’
“The newspaper and its executive editor and author Dan Wootton – whose name has for some reason been as absent from these proceedings as Mr Wootton himself – brands Mr Depp as a wife beater.”
The barrister told the court the article referred to “overwhelming evidence” that Mr Depp was violent towards Ms Heard. He said: “So serious is the charge that is made against Mr Depp that Mr Wootton calls on (JK Rowling) to recast someone else in the role.”
Mr Sherborne added: “That is one of the great ironies in this case: there is no charge ever filed against Mr Depp.
Mr Sherborne said The Sun and Mr Wootton were “acting as both judge and jury, and the defendants plainly and squarely state that Mr Depp is guilty (of a) series of serious and violent criminal offences”.
He told Mr Justice Nicol that the first issue he will have to decide is the meaning of The Sun’s article, saying it is Mr Depp’s case that it meant 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, for which (he) was constrained to pay no less than GBP5 million to compensate her … and for that reason is not fit to work in the film industry”.
He told the court: “Mr Depp, as we say, was tried, convicted and sentenced – that is what the article suggests.
“So … we are all here because the newspaper and Mr Wootton chose to publish this extremely serious allegation, an allegation which Mr Depp says – and has always said – is completely untrue.”
Mr Sherborne said Mr Depp knows the allegation is untrue, as do “all the friends” and others who have come to give evidence during the three-week trial. The barrister added: “Why else would Mr Depp, this private man as he explained, expose all the most intimate details of his personal life?”
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 Justice Nicol has said that his judgment will be reserved.