Johnny Depp wants to delay the trial of his libel case against The Sun newspaper over allegations he was violent and abusive towards his ex-wife Amber Heard “because he’s a coward and because he knows he’s going to lose”, the High Court has heard.
The Pirates Of The Caribbean star, 56, is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), the publishers of The Sun, and the newspaper’s executive editor Dan Wootton over an April 2018 article which referred to him as a “wife-beater”.
A two-week trial is due to begin in London on Monday, at which Mr Depp, Ms Heard and a number of Hollywood figures are due to give evidence.
Mr Justice Nicol was told on Wednesday that the worldwide spread of Covid-19 meant the trial might need to be adjourned.
But at a hearing to determine whether the trial should go ahead on Friday, Adam Wolanski QC, for NGN, said Mr Depp wanted the trial to be adjourned “not because of the coronavirus, but because he cannot face the prospect of his lies about his relationship being exposed because he’s a coward and because he knows he’s going to lose”.
Mr Wolanski told the court that Ms Heard, 33, who is giving evidence in support of The Sun’s defence, was “prepared to move heaven and earth to make this trial happen and to come and give evidence”.
He added: “She is currently in California, but despite all the travel problems that exist and despite the risks to her health of travelling, she has found a flight leaving Los Angeles today.”
Mr Wolanski continued: “It is essential to Ms Heard that the ordeal that Mr Depp has subjected her to for many years is brought to an end.
“She explains that he has used, for many years, his physical, financial and professional power to embarrass and harass her and people around her, including witnesses in this case.”
Lawyers for Mr Depp told the court he is unable to attend the trial because he is in France, which is in lockdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and is also unable to give evidence via videolink.
Mr Wolanski read out a text message, sent by Mr Depp to Christian Carino in August 2016, in which he said of Ms Heard: “She is begging for global humiliation. She is going to get it.”
He described Ms Heard as “gold-digging, low-level, dime-a-dozen, mushy, pointless”.
Mr Depp bemoaned “that time I blew on a 50-cent stripper”, adding: “I would not touch her with a goddamn glove.”
The text concluded: “Now I will stop at nothing.”
Mr Wolanski added: “And he has stopped at nothing.”
He submitted that Mr Depp had conducted a “sustained campaign of vicious leaks and smears”, and that Ms Heard wanted the trial to go ahead so “the four-year campaign of abuse by Mr Depp can be brought to an end”.
Jennifer Afia, representing Mr Depp, said her client was “extremely keen for these proceedings to proceed as soon as possible so that he can vindicate his reputation”.
But she said the worldwide spread of Covid-19 required the court and the parties “to be realistic, responsible and, above all, to be safe”.
She said it is likely that London will go into a full lockdown in the coming days or weeks, adding: “As much as he wants to be here on Monday in person, he will physically not be able to attend.”
She added: “If Mr Depp cannot get here, there is no possibility he can give evidence via videolink from his remote location in the south of France.”
The libel claim against NGN and Mr Wootton arises out of publication of an article in The Sun in April 2018, under the headline “Gone Potty – How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”
Mr Depp has brought separate libel proceedings against Ms Heard in the US, which the court has previously heard are “ongoing”.
Mr Depp and Ms Heard met on the set of 2011 comedy The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015.
In May 2016, Ms Heard obtained a restraining order against Mr Depp after accusing him of abuse, which he denied.
The couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Ms Heard donating her seven million US dollar (£5.5 million) settlement to charity.