How Amber Heard stood alone against a Hollywood superstar

Actor endured pressure in and out of court during Johnny Depp libel trial but emerged vindicated

Though flanked by an all-female support team each day of her former husband’s libel trial against the Sun, in many ways Amber Heard had stood starkly alone as she took on one of Hollywood’s most powerful men.

Now vindicated after a case that might well have been billed as Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard, it was on her word that the Sun had relied during 16 days in which the relative absence of other witnesses had been marked.

It was a role not without cost – particularly when it came to the onslaught from the best legal team Depp’s money could hire.

“She was accused of making an elaborate hoax which has been said to be false. So I think the way in which she was secondarily abused in the courtroom is an issue which will be studied for years to come,” said Mark Stephens, a partner at Howard Kennedy and expert in reputation management.

But as some former acquaintances remained silent – or dropped away from plans to support her before the trial – Heard, 34, had also been the target of particular pressure, and worse, outside of court.

Ending a week of giving evidence, the actor said she had appeared in court because “every day more and more attacks were coming out accusing me of being a liar and forcing me to be in a position where at some point I would need to speak against it”.

The case – brought by Depp over a 2018 article that referred to him as a “wife beater” – had always had the potential to deal grave reputational damage to all concerned.

Unlike him, however, she was given a police escort because of threats from Depp’s fans and was at one stage the focus of a digital banner on a lorry outside the high court bearing the slogan: “Ditch the witch.”

The stunt by the Fathers4Justice group was greeted with delight by members of the army of Depp fans who have traded blows online with supporters of Heard. They vented their anger at the actor, who has submitted details of 14 occasions during their marriage when she claims her then husband assaulted her. In 12 out of the 14 incidents of assault reported by Heard in open court, the judge said he found the allegations proved on the balance of probabilities.

More seriously – say sources close to Heard – both she and her sister Whitney have received anonymous death threats. Harassing messages were also sent to the chambers of Jennifer Robinson, the human rights lawyer whose clients include Julian Assange and who attended court with Heard, alongside Heard’s partner, Bianca Butti, and a US attorney, Elaine Bredehoft.

Other voices, while not aligned specifically with Heard, had spoken up outside of court, such as the Labour frontbench MP Jess Phillips, who voiced concern about what she had read in coverage “that seems to be a character assassination of Heard, leaning too far, in my opinion, towards the old tropes about domestic abuse that campaigners like me have tried for years to combat”.

But there had been setbacks as others dropped away.

One loss has been friend Amanda de Cadenet, who withdrew from plans to testify after listening to audio tapes in which she said she had heard Heard being verbally abusive to Depp.

De Cadenet made a statement in the US that she “felt she had been misled by Miss Heard in relation to Miss Heard’s account of her relationship with Mr Depp and the violence between them”, which was read out in court.

And during the trial evidence that questioned Heard’s credibility and character was heard in court. Cutting testimony came, for example, from a housekeeper employed by Depp and a manager of his private island in the Caribbean.

Potentially even more damaging, and coming not from a witness who might be dismissed as being in hock to Depp, was the evidence from Heard’s former personal assistant Kate James, who accused the actor of stealing her own experience of being a victim of sexual violence and twisting it into a different story.

Then again, the one-time couple went into the trial on a less than equal footing. While Depp has loomed large in popular culture – evolving from the teen idol of 21 Jump Street to a figure with some artistic credibility – Heard was less well known.

By her own account, she parted with the Catholicism of her Texan childhood at six and declared herself an agnostic after a friend died in a car crash. Later, she threw herself into activism against sexual violence and for LGBTQ+ rights.

“Everyone said there has never been another working actress who did this, a female lead – you will lose everything,” Heard said of her decision to come out as bisexual in 2010.

As the trial drew to a close, Heard elaborated on her reticence which she said she had put aside in order to testify, telling the court: “I didn’t want to expose the totality of what really happened to me. I didn’t want to tell everybody what happened in our relationship, in our marriage. I didn’t want to put Johnny in the situation where the world and his kids knew everything he did.”

Asked by Sasha Wass QC, counsel for the Sun, whether her account was an “elaborate hoax” and how she benefited from speaking out, Heard said: “What woman has ever benefited from being the victim of domestic violence in her own story?”


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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