Amber Heard, not Johnny Depp, was the one who started fights during their marriage, the high court has been told at the start of a libel battle involving the divorced Hollywood actors.
It was Heard who was “the abuser” and who invented claims that her former partner was a “wife-beater”, according to an opening statement submitted to the court by Depp’s barrister, David Sherborne.
The trial in the Royal Courts of Justice is expected to last three weeks and has been spread across five courts to allow for social distancing and to accommodate the media.
The case, Sherborne explained, concerned allegations that Johnny Depp “seriously physically assaulted his former wife, the actress, Amber Heard. Not just once but on at least 14 different occasions it is now said, causing her such serious injuries and being so violent that it led Ms Heard to fear for her very life.”
The libel claim, however, has been brought not against Heard but against the Sun newspaper and its executive editor, Dan Wootton, for an article about Depp which included the term “wife-beater”.
Heard had “initiated” the allegations in 2016 at the time of their divorce, Sherborne said, using them “very publicly, to obtain an ex parte temporary restraining order” against Depp.
Heard, Sherborne said, had appeared at a Los Angeles courthouse in May 2016, “trailed by photographers and sporting what appeared to be obvious bruises to her face which were no doubt designed to be a visual demonstration of her primary incident of alleged violence”.
But police officers trained in dealing with domestic violence who attended the incident had not seen “any injuries on the night they were allegedly sustained, or on the next few days”, Sherborne said.
“There is a substantial body of evidence (including from these and other witnesses) which clearly demonstrates that this was a lie manufactured by Ms Heard and her friends.
“The alleged incidents have expanded and become embellished, and even changed character, quite dramatically over the years since then.”
Depp’s account, he said, was that he did not attack Heard at all. “Ms Heard has invented these stories of serious violence. He is not and never has been a wife-beater,” Sherborne said.
“Indeed, he says that it was Ms Heard who was the one who started physical fights, who punched or hit him (and there was little he could really do to stop this); she was the abuser, not him. And the contemporaneous evidence fully supports that, as the court will hear.”
Depp, 57, went into the witness box after Sherborne’s statement was submitted – although it was not read out in court.
He had avoided confrontation in their relationship, he recalled. “Whenever these situations would escalate, I would try and go to my own corner. I wanted to separate before things got out of hand.”
Several times, Depp was asked to speak up. He apologised and said: “I have a tendency to talk quiet.”
Questioned about his drug use by Sasha Wass QC, for the Sun, Depp said he first started taking his mother’s “nerve pills” at the age of 11. He stood by an earlier magazine interview he had given in which he said: “I did every kind of drugs there were by the age of 14.”
But he denied that he had ever indulged in “destructive behaviour”. He took drugs initially, he said, because “it was the “only thing I found to numb the pain”.
Depp denied having taken Ketamine although he agreed he had consumed cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, mushrooms and cannabis.
Among his role models were writers who had advocated drug use such as the 18th-century writer Thomas De Quincey and Hunter S Thompson, he said. The guitarist Keith Richards had also been been a role model.
Depp agreed he had taken drugs twice with the musician Marilyn Manson, but not since 2011. Disputing his account of the dates, Wass told him: “Mr Depp you are lying about that.”
She asked the Hollywood actor, best known for his role in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, whether he had a “nasty, angry side” to his character.
Depp replied: “I’m not aware of that. There has been quite a lot of pain.” Having become a well-known public figure, he acknowledged, “was a confusing thing”.
He continued: “You become a product. Your name no longer sounds the way it did. The sound of my own name even sounds foreign to me.”
Wass suggested Depp was someone who often expressed his anger by “trashing” hotel rooms.
She took him through one such incident when he was said to have inflicted almost $10,000 worth of damage on a New York hotel room.
“I don’t know the exact amount of damage,” Depp answered. “I made a few dents. Yes.” It had been the culmination of a “particularly bad couple of days”, he said, because he had “been screwed over by a friend”.
He added: “I was angry. That didn’t mean I had an anger problem. On that occasion I chose to express my anger.” He denied that it had been because he had quarrelled with a girlfriend.
Heard attended the hearing on Tuesday. Her spokesperson said in a statement outside court before the trial: “Amber was never asked for these proceedings to take place. Amber obtained a domestic violence restraining order against Depp back in 2016 and has tried to moved on with her life.
“It is Johnny Depp who brought these proceedings against a British newspaper and has dragged her to the UK courts to give evidence on some of the most distressing moments of her life.”
In an opening statement, submitted to the court in writing, lawyers for the Sun said they would “demonstrate that the description of Mr Depp as a ‘wife-beater’ is entirely accurate and truthful.
The case continues.