Johnny Depp’s bid to overturn a damning High Court ruling that he assaulted his ex-wife Amber Heard and put her in fear for her life has been dealt an initial setback after he was refused permission to appeal.
The Hollywood star sued The Sun’s publisher for libel after a 2018 column by its executive editor Dan Wootton labelled him a “wife beater”.
The 57-year-old took legal action against News Group Newspapers (NGN) over the column, which referred to “overwhelming evidence” he attacked Ms Heard, 34, during their relationship.
Earlier this month, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the Pirates Of The Caribbean actor’s claim, finding NGN had proved what was in the article was “substantially true”.
The same judge refused Mr Depp permission to appeal last week, ruling: “I do not consider that the proposed grounds of appeal have a reasonable prospect of success.”
The judge also ordered the actor to make an initial payment to NGN of almost £630,000 for the publisher’s legal fees.
Mr Justice Nicol said in his ruling: “In substance, the claimant disagrees with my findings of fact, but for the reasons summarised by (NGN’s barrister Adam Wolanksi QC) the findings of fact by a first instance tribunal – particularly one, such as myself, who has heard oral evidence – are rarely open to challenge on appeal.
“In any event, I do not consider that the proposed grounds of appeal have a reasonable prospect of success – and that is also the case so far as the grounds of appeal suggest that I erred in principle or in law – and there is not some other compelling reason why permission to appeal should be granted.”
In the ruling, which was made public on Wednesday, Mr Justice Nicol gave Mr Depp until December 7 to apply directly to the Court of Appeal to overturn his judgment.
In his main judgment, published earlier this month, Mr Justice Nicol concluded that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence relied on by NGN did occur.
The judge found that Mr Depp assaulted Ms Heard on a dozen occasions and put her in “fear for her life” on three occasions, including one the actress described as a “three-day hostage situation” in Australia in March 2015.
Mr Justice Nicol found Ms Heard was also in fear for her life during incidents on the Eastern and Oriental Express in South East Asia in August 2015 and again in LA in December of the same year.
The judge said “a recurring theme in Mr Depp’s evidence was that Ms Heard had constructed a hoax and that she had done this as an ‘insurance policy’”, and that Ms Heard was a “gold-digger”.
But he added: “I do not accept this characterisation of Ms Heard.”
Mr Depp announced just days after the ruling that he was asked by Warner Brothers to resign from his role in the Harry Potter spin-off franchise Fantastic Beasts – the very role which prompted Mr Wootton to ask how JK Rowling could be “genuinely happy” Mr Depp was cast in the film.
In that statement, he said: “The surreal judgement of the court in the UK will not change my fight to tell the truth and I confirm that I plan to appeal.”
His solicitor Jenny Afia, from the Schillings law firm, had said the High Court ruling was “as perverse as it is bewildering”, adding: “The judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision.”
But Ms Heard’s US lawyer, Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, said: “For those of us present for the London High Court trial, this decision and judgment are not a surprise.
“Very soon, we will be presenting even more voluminous evidence in the US.”
Mr Depp is currently embroiled in a separate libel battle in the US, having sued Ms Heard personally over a 2018 Washington Post opinion piece in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse.
The actor is reportedly seeking 50 million US dollars in damages from his ex-wife over the article, which did not mention him by name – but Ms Heard is countersuing for twice that amount, claiming Mr Depp orchestrated a smear camp against her.
That case is due to be heard in Virginia, where the Washington Post is published, some time in 2021.