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In this issue of zoom-in brief, Johnny Depp’s pre-trial review hearing takes place at the High Court ahead of his libel trial against The Sun; details of family court judgments published after UK Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal from Dubai’s ruler; and beautician wins damages from Mail on Sunday.

Defamation - Johnny Depp “wife-beater” libel case in the High Court

Editorial credit: Featureflash Photo Agency
Editorial credit: Featureflash Photo Agency

Johnny Depp

Text messages actor Johnny Depp allegedly sent about his ex-wife Amber Heard have been revealed during the latest stage of his libel case against The Sun. The case, which is due to go to trial later this month, sees Depp suing the publishers of The Sun and its executive editor Dan Wootton over an article headlined: ‘”Gone Potty How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?’”. Depp has said he is seeking vindication over allegations that he was abusive to his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard.

At the pre-trial review hearing at the end of February, the High Court heard the details of texts that the Sun say were amongst 70,000 messages ‘accidentally’ released to them by Depp’s previous lawyers. Texts Depp allegedly sent to British actor Paul Bettany were read out in court, saying: ‘Let’s burn Amber’ and ‘Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead.’

In another text message, said to have been sent to Heard after an incident in which it is alleged Depp hit her, Depp referred to a ‘disco bloodbath and a hideous moment.’ Depp says the text was sent to ‘placate’ Heard. Depp strongly denies ever hitting Ms Heard. His barrister said that there is ‘no single smoking gun’ supporting the allegation that he was violent.

Depp’s lawyers referred to a recording in which Amber Heard is said to discuss being violent towards Mr Depp. Depp’s case is that Heard was ‘the aggressor’ in the relationship, not him. His barrister described the evidence on each side as ‘diametrically opposed’, saying that one party was lying, and on Depp’s case it is Ms Heard.

Unusually for an interim hearing, Depp was at court, sitting behind his lawyers in a dark blue suit and blue-tinted glasses.

Depp and Heard met on the set of The Rum Diary, in which they co-starred in 2011, and were married in 2015. In 2016 Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp after alleging that he had abused her, allegations which he denied. When the couple divorced they both signed non-disclosure agreements and issued a statement which included ‘Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain’ and ‘There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.’

The Sun and Wootton are standing by the article, and a two week libel trial is due to start on 23 March 2020. Both Depp and Heard are expected to give evidence, with a number of other witnesses due to appear either in person or on video link from California. Lawyers for The Sun have also said that the trial will explore Mr Depp’s use of alcohol and drugs. Depp has brought separate libel proceedings against Heard in the United States over an article she wrote in the Washington Post. Those proceedings are also ongoing.

Reporting restrictions – Details of family court judgments published after UK Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal from Dubai’s ruler

Details of two family court judgments involving Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed’s two children with his ex-wife, Princess Haya of Jordan can now be reported after the UK Supreme Court refused the Sheikh’s attempt to prevent their publication.

Sheikh Mohammed had been involved in a dispute with his ex-wife Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah, over the welfare of their two children since last May.

Late last year, Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of London’s High Court Family Division, handed down two fact finding judgments in the case.  The details of judgments in family law cases are rarely released, but Sir Andrew decided in January that it was in the public interest that some information be made public. Sheikh Mohammed appealed that decision, but the Court of Appeal refused to overturn it.

Sheikh Mohammed then sought to appeal to the Supreme Court, but it refused to hear his appeal, saying his case did “not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance”.

The judgments contained “findings of fact” about allegations raised by Princess Haya during hearings over the last nine months.

Much of the fact-finding ruling records the events surrounding the disappearances of Princess Shamsa from Cambridge in 2000, when she was 19, and of Princess Latifa, who was seized by Indian army commandos from the Indian Ocean in 2018, when she was 32, before being forcibly returned to Dubai.

The Sheikh was found to have “not been open and honest with the court”  and the judge found on the balance of probabilities  that he had ordered the abduction of two of his daughters and orchestrated a campaign of intimidation against his former wife.

The billionaire Sheikh, 70, is the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai. He is also the founder of the Godolphin horse racing stable and last year received a trophy from the Queen after one of his horses won at Royal Ascot.

Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, 45, is the daughter of the former King Hussein of Jordan and half-sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan. She was Sheikh Mohammed’s sixth wife and reportedly fled Dubai last year with their two young children.

Sheikh Mohammed has denied all the allegations against him.

Defamation - Beautician wins damages from Mail on Sunday

A beautician has been paid a “life changing” sum in damages by the publisher of the Mail on Sunday after it featured her in a story about “cosmetic cowboys” and “rogue beauticians”.

Danielle Hindley was featured in a December 2017 article, which relied on a complaint by a former client, despite Trading Standards previously finding for Ms Hindley over the same issue.

A Mail on Sunday reporter posing as a customer visited Dolly’s Nails, Hair and Beauty, which Ms Hindley ran from her home, and secretly filmed her for the article.

The article, under the headline Curse of the Cosmetic Cowboys referred to “dangerous and illegal procedures which can leave women permanently disfigured” and included Ms Hindley as “Case Study 1”.

Ms Hindley, a single mother, complained that the Article led to her becoming a victim of months of online trolling and abuse, and that she was driven to the brink of suicide.

Ms Hindley took a complaint over the accuracy of the coverage to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

The regulator found in her favour and obtained a correction, but this was only published on page 8 of the paper, rather than page 2 as had previously been agreed.

Ms Hindley’s case was then taken up by pressure group Hacked Off, and she brought a defamation claim against Associated Newspapers Limited, the newspaper’s publisher.

Her claim was eventually settled by the payment of damages and costs by the publisher, and an apology in the form of the reading of a Statement in Open Court.

“I feel happy but I also feel like I can’t walk away from it just yet because there are still people not being heard,” Ms Hindley said, following the settlement.

In a statement, the Mail on Sunday said: “The article was an important public interest investigation into the beauty and cosmetic treatment industry where unlicensed practitioners continue to offer procedures that are potentially dangerous and can result in women suffer lasting damage or worse.”

“Unfortunately Danielle Hindley was wrongly identified and portrayed in the article.”

“We have apologised to her and paid damages for the distress and loss she has suffered.”

The claim is an example of a “rogues’ gallery” case, where the damage caused by allegations about a particular individual is made worse by their inclusion as one instance of a wider pattern of wrongdoing.

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