Many years ago, I ran a domestic violence trial in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court. My client, the hard-done-by wife – a South African gothic Jewish version of Morticia Addams – was the applicant. Morticia sought a final protection order for herself and her minor child, against Tormentor General second hubby – an IT nerd geek very low-grade version of Mark Zuckerberg.
When I lead Morticia gently through her evidence-in-chief, she was way more convincing than Madeleine McCann’s mother was when she had told Portuguese Police she had less than zero to do with Madeleine’s vanishing into thin Lusitanian air. Cross examination was all very heated, with seething and caustic exchanges between me and D-grade Zuckerberg, and with Morticia looking on at me as if her water were about to break. During the afternoon session, the Magistrate urgently stood the matter down and ordered:
“Mr Varkel, in my chambers – now”. Sheepishly I entered his room, asking: “Yes, Your Worship, you wanted to see me?”
“Sit down” he said. Striking-off applications and loss of annuity income were flashing through my mind like a 100,000-watt-strobe-light at 3am on the dance floor of a dodgy Rio de Janeiro meat-market disco.
“Mr Varkel” he said peering earnestly into my eyes, “I want to ask you a serious question – now do not worry about the case, you have already earned your client’s final protection order. But what I really want to know, before we wrap up today, is: who is a bigger liar – your client the wife, or the husband? Tell me the truth. We are just two guys talking here.”
I was shitting bricks, was he having me on I thought?
“Well, truth be told Your Worship, I think my client – the wife – is the bigger liar”.
He stood up very quickly, as did I; he pumped my hand hard and said: “You know what Mr Varkel – I do too. See you back in Court”.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, met on set in 2009 during the filming of the Rum Diary – a semi-biopic, yet more an exaggerated fictionalisation of Hunter S Thompson’s early days, when he was cutting his gonzo teeth as a young journalist in Puerto Rico.
Cut-to: eleven years later, Depp and Heard having already divorced in 2015; and Depp is now suing British News Group Newspapers and its editor Dan Wooton for libel for having labelled him in print as a “wife beater”. Fascinating details, only in the truly freak-show sense, and a morbid distraction from our bored lock-up gaoled lives have emerged from the Trial. Depp was accused by Heard of heinous acts of domestic violence: of throwing empty Molotov cocktails at her when all she wanted was a Bloody Mary handed gently to her; of using her cheek as an ashtray to stub out his cigarette; of giving her a passionate Glasgow Kiss (headbutt); of telling fellow actor Paul Bettany in a text: “let’s drown her before burning her. I will f**k her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead”.
Depp accuses Heard of throwing lots of things at him: fiendishly insulting long-windedness about his apparent substance abuse; a vodka bottle which severed his fingertips; clean cooking pots and pans; and of giving him the famous South African marital pre-coitus-foreplay-rugby-game-on-living-room-cheap-brandy-and-coke-induced world famous “po*s-klap”.
One of Depp’s lawyers, David Sherborne, a specialist in reputation management cases, has an high-end A-list clientele, which is longer than the drive from Bonteheuwel to Chapman’s Peak. At the end of each freak-show Trial day, he sits smugly in his plush velvet-lined Louis XV furnished London Gray’s Inn QC chambers, with his £1,500 pair of Berluti shoes up on his pleadings-strewn sandal-wood desk, sipping Remy Martin cognac, throwing his head back, and laughing so very hard at his £ 20,000 per Trial-day fee, knowing he truly has beaten the system by acting for super wealthy £ 180M net-worth schmucks like Johnny Depp.
The thing is – does David Sherborne QC really care; does he really give a rat’s arse about who the bigger liar is – Depp or Heard?