The Hollywood actor launched legal action against NGN and The Sun’s executive editor Dan Wootton over an article published in April 2018, which referred to “overwhelming evidence” that he attacked ex-wife Amber Heard during their relationship. Depp has always denied the allegations.
The verdict was returned at the High Court on Monday, after a three-week trial in July, during which Depp and Heard both gave evidence.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the Pirates Of The Caribbean star’s claim, saying NGN had proved what was in the article to be “substantially true”.
The judge said: “The claimant has not succeeded in his action for libel.
“Although he has proved the necessary elements of his cause of action in libel, the defendants have shown that what they published in the meaning which I have held the words to bear was substantially true.
“I have reached these conclusions having examined in detail the 14 incidents on which the defendants rely, as well as the overarching considerations which the claimant submitted I should take into account.”
During the case – which has been referred to as the biggest English libel trial of the 21st century – NGN’s defence relied on evidence of 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence by Depp towards Heard.
NGN defended The Sun’s article as true and claimed Depp was “controlling and verbally and physically abusive towards Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs” between early 2013 and May 2016, when the couple split.
Mr Justice Nicol found that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence did occur.
He said he was “not persuaded” that an alleged “incident of violence” in Los Angeles in December 2014 “constituted a physical assault of Ms Heard by Mr Depp”.
Mr Justice Nicol also said that he could not rule that an alleged incident in LA in November 2015 had been proven because it was not put to Mr Depp in cross-examination.
However, he found 12 other incidents of domestic violence by Mr Depp had occurred.
The actor denied having been violent to Heard during their relationship.
During the trial, the court heard evidence from both Depp and Heard, along with friends and relatives of the couple, and several former and current employees.
Depp spent around 20 hours in the witness box over five days, facing intense questioning about his Hollywood lifestyle, his use of drink and drugs, allegations of violence, and his friendships.
Following the verdict, a spokesperson for The Sun said: “The Sun has stood up and campaigned for the victims of domestic abuse for over 20 years.
“Domestic abuse victims must never be silenced and we thank the judge for his careful consideration and thank Amber Heard for her courage in giving evidence to the court.”
In a statement after the ruling, Mr Depp’s solicitor, Jenny Afia, from Schillings law firm, indicated Depp will appeal the ruling.
“This decision is as perverse as it is bewildering,” she said. “Most troubling is the judge’s reliance on the testimony of Amber Heard, and corresponding disregard of the mountain of counter-evidence from police officers, medical practitioners, her own former assistant, other unchallenged witnesses and an array of documentary evidence which completely undermined the allegations, point by point.
“All of this was overlooked. The judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision.”
In a statement, Amber Heard’s US lawyer Elaine Charlson Bredehoft said the actress’s legal team would be presenting more evidence in a separate libel action launched by Depp against Heard herself over a Washington Post opinion piece.
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.
“We are committed to obtaining justice for Amber Heard in the US court and defending Ms Heard’s right to free speech.”