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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial begins

Lawyers for Johnny Depp branded Amber Heard a liar, “obsessed” with her image, in opening arguments of the defamation trial between the former spouses.

The case was brought after an article by Heard in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse.

But Heard’s team claimed Depp brought her to court simply to “destroy her”.

Depp, 58, has denied any abuse and has sued his ex-wife for $50m (£38m).

Hordes of fans have already gathered outside the Virginia courthouse for the trial, expected to last up to seven weeks.

At issue in the trial is Heard’s 2018 opinion piece in the Washington Post, describing herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse”. Depp has sued, claiming the article – which does not mention him by name – is defamatory and derailed his career.

Heard has in turn, sued him, with a $100m counterclaim.

Beginning a day of opening arguments, Camille Vasquez, a lawyer for Depp, told jurors Heard had been the aggressor throughout the star’s relationship.

“She would berate him, scream at him. He would just retreat,” Ms Vasquez said.

Heard concocted a role for herself as victim, Ms Vasquez said, once Depp had asked her for a divorce in attempt to “avoid humiliation”.

“She is obsessed with her public image,” she said. “She has been living and breathing this role for years now and she is preparing to give the performance of her life.”

Lawyers for Heard instead claimed the actress had endured emotional, verbal and physical harassment at the hands of Depp.

Depp wants to “haunt her, to wreck her career”, attorney Ben Rottenborn said.

Christi Dembrowski, Depp’s older sister, was first on the witness stand. Responding to questions from Depp’s lawyer, Ms Dembrowski described a volatile childhood, shaped by their mother’s abuse.

“Mom would, she would scream, she would yell. She would hit [Dad], call him names,” Ms Dembrowski said. Depp never fought back, she said.

Presentational grey line

At the scene – David Sillito, BBC News, Virginia

“Words matter!”

The words were delivered with a flourish, the beginning of a case about how Johnny Depp had been wounded, emotionally and materially by the words of Amber Heard. Benjamin Chew, leading Johnny Depp’s legal team, laid out what we are about to witness, a case that will try to portray Amber Heard as a liar, a “troubled” and “manipulative” woman who was, they say, the real abuser.

The opening statement was delivered with all the slickness of a Hollywood movie, you almost felt there was going to be a round of applause at the end but, inside the court, all was calm.

Johnny Depp sat silently, carefully watching the lawyers presentations to the jury of 11. Amber Heard, impassive, attentive, occasionally appearing to take notes.

Watching, was a crowd made up largely of Johnny Depp fans. Before court proceedings began they were warned to keep phones hidden, to not take pictures, there would be no shouting of ‘we love you, Johnny.’ But as it began there was not a murmur or a sign of movement. Confidence was high that this would vindicate their idol.

This is going to be, they feel, the full story with evidence from forensic experts, a counsellor, the police and friends. Johnny Depp may have lost his case in London, this they feel will be different.

Amber Heard’s legal team then presented the challenge. Yes, she had accused him of abuse but that was not what her article in the Washington Post was about. She did not name Johnny Depp, she did not write the headline and in America there is a special constitutional protection for words written in the newspapers.

Most lawyers would agree that bringing a successful libel action in America is much harder than in the UK and in the case in Britain, the judge came down firmly on the side of Amber Heard’s version of events.

Today, however, was just an overture. Jurors were warned that what was to come would be graphic, neither side said they wanted to reveal the details of their turbulent private life and celebrity friends but that is now where we are.

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