LONDON — American actor Johnny Depp lost his libel case Monday against a British tabloid that called him a "wife beater" in an article about his fractious relationship with his former spouse, actress Amber Heard.

Depp, 57, sued News Group Newspapers, publisher of the Sun, and its executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an article published in April 2018. The piece originally ran with the headline: “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

Depp, best known for his roles as the flamboyant, kohl-eyed Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise, admitted in court that he and Heard had drunken, raging arguments, but he denied hitting her.  

The judge in the 16-day trial in the Royal Courts, Justice Andrew Nicol, said the Sun had proved its article was “substantially true.”

The loss of his high-stakes libel case is a serious blow to Depp and could cost him lucrative acting roles. He will also have to pay legal costs in London, which could run in the millions of dollars.

Depp’s attorney on Monday called the ruling “perverse” and promised an appeal.

The ruling is a hard-fought win for Heard, who has campaigned against domestic abuse, and may help her reclaim her reputation. During the trial, Depp and witnesses described her as a manipulative liar and a gold-digger who drank to excess and sought to frame him. 

Both Depp and Heard appeared in the witness box during the July trial, a dramatic showdown involving accusations and counter-accusations, with reams of lurid details about their lives — including Depp’s $30,000 monthly wine bills, a Los Angeles penthouse used to store clothes, and bouts of rehab, punctuated by cocaine binges.

Heard, 34, who testified for the defense, alleged that Depp assaulted her on 14 occasions during their volatile relationship. The judge found there was enough evidence to support her claims about 12 incidents.

The couple met about a decade ago while filming “The Rum Diary,” an adaptation of a novel by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. They married in 2015 and separated in 2016, divorcing a year later.

Heard accused her ex-husband of verbal and physical abuse. She said Depp slapped, kicked, head-butted and choked her. During one incident, she said, Depp threw wine and liquor bottles at her “like grenades.” She claimed he was frequently inebriated and high on drugs while the couple lived together in Australia, Los Angeles and London.

Depp blamed his actions, Heard said, on a self-created entity he called “The Monster.”

Depp admitted to heavy drinking and drug use, but he strenuously denied the allegations of violence. He claimed, instead, that he was the true victim of physical abuse, that Heard had repeatedly punched him in the face and that his fingertip was severed after she hurled a bottle at him.

He said that Heard was a “compulsive liar” and that her claims were a “hoax.”

During the trial, two former partners of Depp — actress Winona Ryder and French singer Vanessa Paradis, with whom Depp has two children — submitted witness statements saying that he had never been violent toward them and that they found the allegations upsetting.

Ryder, who was once engaged to Depp, wrote: “I understand that it is very important that I speak from my own experience, as I obviously was not there during his marriage to Amber, but, from my experience, which was so wildly different, I was absolutely shocked, confused and upset when I heard the accusations against him. The idea that he is an incredibly violent person is the farthest thing from the Johnny I knew and loved.” 

The judge said in a 128-page ruling that he believed Heard, writing that the great majority of alleged assaults by Depp “have been proved to the civil standard.”

The judge said he agreed that Heard’s allegations “have had a negative effect on her career as an actor and activist.” He dismissed Depp’s characterization of Heard as a “gold-digger,” noting that her “$7 million donation to charity is hardly the act one would expect of a gold-digger.”

In his ruling, the judge quoted from an email Depp sent in 2016 that read in part: “I have no mercy, no fear and not an ounce of emotion or what I once thought was love for this gold digging, low level, dime a dozen, mushy, pointless [person]. . . . I can only hope that karma kicks in and takes the gift of breath from her. . . . ”

The Sun responded to the judgment with a statement saying that the paper “has stood up and campaigned for the victims of domestic abuse for over twenty years.”

It added: “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.”

Jenny Afia, one of Depp’s attorneys, told reporters that the decision against her client was “as perverse as it is bewildering.”

She criticized the judge for relying on Heard’s testimony versus what she described as “the mountain of counter-evidence from police officers, medical practitioners, her own former assistant.”

Afia said that “the judgment is so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr. Depp not to appeal this decision.”

It’s unclear whether the ruling will have any effect on Depp’s decision to sue Heard for $50 million in a separate defamation case in the United States.

In a trial set to be held next year, Depp is accusing Heard of defamation in a 2018 op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post. In it, she doesn’t mention Depp by name or point to any specific allegations but talks about being a “public figure representing domestic abuse” and feeling “the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”

Legal experts say Depp could, arguably, face an even tougher task in a U.S. courtroom, where the burden of proof is on the party filing suit and where free-speech protections are stronger.

In that case, Depp will try to prove that Heard knew that she made false statements and that they were published regardless. In Britain, the burden of proof is on the defendant, or the person or company being sued, who has to do the heavy lifting.

In the London case, News Group Newspapers needed to prove the substantial truth of its claim that Depp was a “wife beater.”