Amber Heard‘s claim that she gave her £5.5million ($7million) divorce settlement from Johnny Depp to charity was a ‘calculated and manipulative lie’ and the donations may have been as little as £800,000 ($1.1million), the star’s lawyers told the Court of Appeal today.
The Hollywood star, 57, is trying to overturn a damning High Court ruling that he assaulted his ex-wife, 34, and put her in fear for her life, and is asking the Court of Appeal to order a retrial of his libel claim against The Sun after he was called a ‘wife-beater’.
His barrister Andrew Caldecott QC’s appeal centres on an application for permission to rely on ‘fresh evidence’ that Ms Heard did not donate her entire divorce settlement to charity.
After the couple divorced in 2016, Ms Heard said she would split the £5.5million ($7million) between the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). But Mr Caldecott told the court Ms Heard gave just $100,000 to the hospital and $450,000 to the ACLU, although she claims she made a further $500,000 donation to the second charity anonymously.
The QC said that the claims had given Ms Heard ‘a considerable boost to her credibility as a person’ and had ‘tipped the scales against Mr Depp from the very beginning’ and that last year’s ruling was ‘deeply flawed’.
Following a three-week trial in July 2020, Mr Justice Nicol ruled that Mr Depp, 57, assaulted Ms Heard, 34, on a dozen occasions and put her in ‘fear for her life’ three times.
The judge found that an April 2018 column calling Mr Depp a ‘wife beater’ was ‘substantially true’. He 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.’
Today the actor’s legal team was back in court to claim the star ‘did not receive a fair trial’ and is applying for permission to appeal against the ruling at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Thursday. Neither Mr Depp nor Ms Heard are present in court.
As Mr Depp’s lawyers fought for a second trial of the century, the court heard:
- Amber Heard is accused of donating a seventh of the $7million divorce payout she received from Johnny Depp, despite saying she gave away all of it;
- Star’s lawyers also claim last year’s judgment against him was ‘flawed’ because it failed to take into account audio of Ms Heard saying: ‘I can’t promise I won’t get physical again’.
- Actor’s QC also claims judge failed to give weight to Depp’s recorded claims to his ex-wife: ‘You f****** haymakered me’;
Hollywood star Johnny Depp, pictured, has gone to the Court of Appeal over his recent High Court defeat over allegations that he had assaulted his ex-wife Amber Heard
The High Court libel case heard a string of claims about the nature of Depp’s relationship with his ex-wife Amber Heard, left, and was nicknamed the trial of the century
The High Court in London was told that Amber Heard, pictured last July, was in fear of her life. Mr Justice Nichol found a story that claimed Depp had assaulted his ex-wife was ‘substantially true’
Johnny Depp’s barrister, David Sherborne arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, and was followed into court by Sasha Wass QC, Lawyer for Amber Heard’s legal team
During the trial Heard showed bruises she claimed were inflicted by Depp as he allegedly smashed her iPhone in her face at her LA home in May 2016 – a month after Depp claimed Heard ‘defecated’ in their marital bed after her 30th birthday
He said Ms Heard was ‘the key witness’ at the libel trial, adding: ‘They (NGN) would have had no defence without Ms Heard. There were many other witnesses, but she was on any view centre stage.’
He added that Ms Heard’s witness statement said that ‘the entire amount of my divorce settlement was donated to charity’.
Mr Caldecott said that statement ‘means what it says … ‘I have not kept a cent’ and that was clearly how the judge understood it’.
The barrister said: ‘There were two charities that received money from Ms Heard: the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union. On August 18 2016, Ms Heard publicly stated that the seven million dollars would be equally divided between them.’
But Mr Caldecott said that ‘the only donation’ to the hospital that has been made is one of ‘100,000 dollars, not the 3.5 million dollars which we say the court was led to believe was the true position’.
Mr Caldecott said, the hospital wrote to Mr Depp’s business adviser in 2019 to say Ms Heard had not made ‘any payments’.
Trial of the century judge failed to take full account of audio where Amber admitted ‘getting physical’ with Depp, his QC claims
Mr Depp’s legal team has argued that the trial judge erred in not attaching much weight to recordings in which Ms Heard appeared to admit to assaulting her ex-husband.
In the recordings, which the couple were using as a form of therapy to help mend their relationship, Ms Heard says: ‘I can’t promise I won’t get physical again.’
She also apparently admits hitting Depp but denies punching him.
Mr Caldecott, for Mr Depp, said: ‘Self-evidently, if in a contemporary consensual tape recorded conversation with a clear audio and more than enough length for proper context and alleged victim admits to assaulting the alleged perpetrator on more than one occasion – we would say several occasions on a fair view of the recording – and says she can’t promise she won’t get physical again, and when it’s her case she has never been violent to the perpetrator, the evidence requires the most careful consideration by the judge.’
Andrew Caldecott said Ms Heard’s ‘promise about future conduct suggests that this is not necessarily a one-off’.
He added: ‘Be it two occasions (of violence by Ms Heard towards Mr Depp) or more, it is a fundamentally important check against the reality of Ms Heard’s case, that she was never an aggressor and always a victim.’
Mr Caldecott said the judge needed to ‘carefully’ consider the importance of the recording, but ‘he does not do that exercise at all’.
The barrister said both sides agreed that Mr Depp and Ms Heard would record their arguments for ‘a therapeutic purpose’.
But he added: ‘It is hard to imagine any therapist advising a couple to lie to each other.’
Mr Caldecott also referred to Ms Heard telling Mr Depp on the recording: ‘You are such a baby. Grow the f*** up.’
The barrister told the court this showed Ms Heard was not concerned about provoking Mr Depp, as she had claimed.
He said: ‘That response, ‘you are such a baby, grow the f*** up’, is not the statement, we say, of someone who is worried about provoking Mr Depp.’
Mr Caldecott told the court that this recording undermined Ms Heard’s evidence about a ‘very, very serious allegation in the confidential judgment’.
He said a judge ‘would be very uneasy’ about finding that confidential allegation had been proved once a witness has shown themselves ‘plainly liable to exaggerate’.
Mr Caldecott also referred to a second recording of Mr Depp and Ms Heard in San Francisco in July 2016, made without Mr Depp’s knowledge, after they had split and Ms Heard had obtained a restraining order against the actor.
On the recording, Mr Depp can be heard to say ‘you f****** haymakered me’, referring to an incident after Ms Heard’s 30th birthday party at the couple’s LA penthouse on April 21 2016.
Mr Caldecott said: ‘She, unbeknownst to him, is recording this conversation. There is no denial by her of that and the obvious inference is she knew if she denied it that he would have persisted.’
In written submissions, Mr Caldecott said the pledges ‘strengthened Ms Heard’s credit in an exceptional way’.
But, he added, that was a ‘calculated and manipulative lie, designed to achieve a potent favourable impression from the outset’.
Amber Heard was never asked whether or not she had donated all of her divorce settlement during last summer’s libel trial, the Court of Appeal heard.
Lord Justice Underhill said: ‘We now know what the truthful answer would have been, but (Ms Heard) was never given the opportunity to say ‘I have paid a comparatively small sum but I’ve made a pledge to both (charities) and I will be paying over X number of years’.’
Mr Caldecott said it was a ‘perfectly reasonable decision by an advocate not to challenge a clear statement that she had donated it all’.
He argued that Ms Heard had been unequivocal in her claims that the entirety of the seven million dollars she received from Mr Depp had already been donated.
In November, Mr Justice Nicol rejected Mr Depp’s contention that Ms Heard was a ‘gold-digger’, saying in his ruling: ‘Her donation of the seven million US dollars to charity is hardly the act one would expect of a gold-digger.’
Mr Caldecott argued that the if ‘the truth about the charity claim emerged at the trial, it would have materially affected Mr Justice Nicol’s consideration of Ms Heard’s evidence as a whole’.
He said: ‘The evidence presented a wholly exceptional act of philanthropy, which would have deeply impressed any reasonable person.
‘Her public statements expressly stated that the ACLU donation had victims of domestic violence specifically in mind.
‘The subliminal message of the charity claim was in any event clear: Ms Heard would not wish to keep any of Mr Depp’s money, because he had subjected her to serious violence. The evidence presented, and was obviously intended to present, her in the strongest terms as both virtuous and a victim.’
Andrew Caldecott said the trial judge last year, Mr Justice Nicol, had a ‘very favourable starting point of Ms Heard’ and unfairly rejected ‘evidence adverse’ to her.
He told the court: ‘If you look at the judgment, material of a similar type against Mr Depp is time and again acted on.’
But, Mr Caldecott said, evidence adverse to Ms Heard was not given the same weight.
The barrister said: ‘The judge had a very favourable starting point of Ms Heard and really was not particularly interested in this adverse evidence.’
He added that ‘the disparity of approach to the evidence of Ms Heard and Mr Depp’ caused Mr Depp ‘substantial unfairness’.
Mr Caldecott said Mr Depp ‘had his suspicions about Ms Heard’s evidence’ at the time of the trial, ‘but he had no evidence to support them’.
The barrister added: ‘Ms Heard took every available step to suppress the evidence.’
Adam Wolanski QC, representing the Sun’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN), said in written submissions that Mr Depp’s ‘fresh evidence’ was said to support ‘a theory that Ms Heard was a ‘gold-digger”.
But, he said, ‘the evidence is not ‘fresh’ at all, since it could have been obtained with reasonable diligence for (the) trial’.
Mr Wolanski added: ‘The ‘fresh’ evidence – which the respondents accept is apparently credible insofar as it shows that Ms Heard has not yet finished making her pledged payments to the charities – only goes to a highly peripheral and unpleaded matter and is of no relevance to the pleaded issues, i.e. the 14 assaults, that Mr Justice Nicol had to decide.
Heard’s team showed the court photos of a separate incident showing bruising to her face after Depp allegedly headbutted her. The trial heard evidence about 14 altercations from their time together. The court believed Heard that he did hit her
After last year’s libel trial of the century Mr Justice Nicol said he accepted 12 of Heard’s 14 allegations that Depp had beaten her for three years beginning in 2013
‘The evidence would have had no impact on Ms Heard’s credibility had it been before the trial judge, since it does not demonstrate that Ms Heard or any of the respondents’ witnesses lied.’
She told the court: ‘The application to admit the evidence should therefore be refused … (and) the application for permission to appeal should be dismissed.’
Mr Depp sued NGN in June 2018 over the column by the newspaper’s executive editor Dan Wootton, which referred to ‘overwhelming evidence’ he attacked Ms Heard.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Nicol concluded that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence relied on by NGN in its defence of the actor’s claim did occur.
The judge also found Mr Depp put Ms Heard in ‘fear for her life’ on three occasions, including one the actress described as a ‘three-day hostage situation’ in Australia in March 2015.
But Mr Depp’s legal team claims Mr Justice Nicol ‘failed to examine the competing accounts of each incident, or to explain whether he found them proved and, if so, on what basis’.
They also argue ‘the judge should have analysed the extent to which Ms Heard’s evidence undermined her credibility in relation to her allegations of physical assault/injury’.
In November Depp accepted an award from Camerimage, a film festival in Poland, for Minamata, in which he plays the war photographer W Eugene Smith. He sent a photograph of himself standing behind bars in what appeared to be his private island in the Bahamas.
Depp severed the top of his finger (pictured) when he smashed a vodka bottle during a row with Heard over his drug-taking while he was in Australia in March 2015 filming Pirates of the Caribbean
After slicing off the top of his finger, Depp went to the bathroom at the mansion in Melbourne they were renting – and wrote I love you in his blood on the mirror. He also daubed other graffiti on the mirror during his drug-fuelled rage
Just days after the ruling in November, Mr Depp announced he had been 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.
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 but did not mention the actor by name.
The actor’s $50million (£35million) US case against Ms Heard was recently delayed until April 2022.
The Court of Appeal hearing, which is being livestreamed on the court’s YouTube channel, is due to conclude on Thursday.
It is yet not known if Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Dingemans will give a ruling on Thursday, or reserve their decision to a later date.