The High Court has found Johnny Depp in breach of an order for failing to disclose texts to lawyers ahead of his libel trial, which apparently show him trying to obtain drugs.
The 57-year-old Pirates Of The Caribbean actor is suing The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN), over an April 2018 article under the headline: ‘Gone Potty – How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?’
The headline of the online article was amended shortly following publication, removing the words ‘wife beater’, but still referred to ‘overwhelming evidence’ that Mr Depp ‘engaged in domestic violence’ against former wife Amber Heard, 34.
Mr Depp vehemently denies the allegations.
However at a hearing last Thursday ahead of next week’s trial, NGN’s legal team asked trial judge Mr Justice Nicol to strike out Mr Depp’s claim, with Adam Wolanski QC arguing that the Hollywood star was in ‘serious’ breach of a court order because he had not given NGN’s legal team what he referred to as the ‘Australia drugs texts’.
In a ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Nicol found that Mr Depp had breached an ‘unless order’ requiring him to disclose documents from separate libel proceedings against Ms Heard in the US.
The judge said: ‘The Australian drug texts were adverse to the claimant’s pleaded case and/or were supportive of the defendants’ pleaded case.’
The messages, sent in late February and early March 2015 between Mr Depp and his assistant, Nathan Holmes – shortly before an alleged incident in Australia between Mr Depp and Ms Heard, which she claims was ‘a three-day ordeal of physical assaults’ – demonstrated that the star was trying to get drugs during the Australia visit, Mr Wolanski said, arguing this was ‘profoundly damaging to his case’.
However the actor’s barrister, David Sherborne, said the messages were not relevant as they did not relate to the allegations of domestic violence, and added Mr Depp had been frank about his drug-taking history.
Mr Justice Nicol did not make a declaration that Mr Depp’s case was automatically struck out, and is hearing an application by Mr Depp’s legal team for ‘relief from sanctions’, which, if successful means the trial goes ahead despite the actor’s breach.
Saying it would be ‘wholly disproportionate’ to stike out the actor’s claim again NGN, Mr Sherborne argued the trial should go ahead so the actor can have ‘vindication’ over the published allegations.
The barrister added: ‘It is now time for defendants to have to prove what they published.’
During last week’s hearing, Mr Wolanski said Mr Depp subjected Ms Heard to a ‘three-day hostage-taking situation’ in Australia while he was taking MDMA, and drinking heavily.
Mr Depp ‘expressly denies’ that he took the drugs, that Ms Heard found a bag of pills or that the pair had any conversations about drug use during that time.
His barrister said NGN’s legal representatives have had access to the text messages as they form part of the evidence in separate US libel proceedings Mr Depp has brought against Ms Heard, and that Mr Depp is aware they have been given access to those documents.
Mr Sherborne said: ‘The central matter in dispute in these proceedings is whether or not the claimant committed multiple acts of serious unprovoked physical violence during his relationship with Amber Heard, causing her significant injuries and to be put in fear for her life.
‘The documents which the court has found fell to be disclosed do not relate to any injury, violence of any kind, or argument with Ms Heard.
He went on: ‘Further, it cannot possibly be said that the claimant deliberately or personally withheld these documents, as the defendants have asserted as part of their strike out.
‘The claimant disclosed the documents in the US proceedings; he was not trying to hide them. The fact that his solicitors did not regard them as falling to be disclosed is different.’
Mr Wolanski argued the trial should not go ahead and said the disclosure exercise undertaken by Mr Depp’s lawyers was ‘conducted at the very least totally incompetently and quite possibly with a view to the deliberate withholding of damaging documents’.
The alleged incident in Australia is one of 14 separate allegations of domestic violence, between early 2013 and May 2016, that NGN relies on in its pleaded defence to Mr Depp’s claim.
A three-week trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in London was due to start in March, but was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic – now listed to begin on 7 July with Mr Depp’s former partners Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder among the witnesses expected to give evidence.
The court has heard that Mr Depp intends to travel from his home in France to London to give evidence, while Ms Heard is believed to have already travelled to the UK from California.
Mr Depp has brought separate libel proceedings against Ms Heard – whom he met on the set of The Rum Diary in 2011, before marrying in February 2015 – in the US, which the court has previously heard are ‘ongoing’.
After splitting in 2016, the couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Ms Heard donating her seven million US dollars (£5.5 million) settlement to charity.
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