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Charges dropped against Amber Heard for bringing dogs to Australia with Johnny Depp

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.23.18 AMBy Joshua Robertson From UK Guardian

The actor Amber Heard, who was prosecuted for illegally bringing her and husband Johnny Depp’s dogs into Australia, has emerged from the country’s highest profile criminal quarantine case with no conviction and a glowing character assessment by a magistrate.

The Hollywood couple have apologised for their terriers’ unauthorised foray down under in an awkward public act of contrition – a scripted video in which Depp says Australians are “just as unique” as their wildlife.

Heard’s punishment, a one-month good behaviour bond of $1,000, was an anti-climactic end to a Hollywood clash with Canberra in an imbroglio dubbed the “war on terrier”.

Magistrate Bernadette Callaghan said the video, played to her Gold Coast court on Monday, was “of far more benefit to this country” as a warning to would-be illegal importers than any conviction recorded against Heard.

She also revealed that the bungle around customs paperwork for Pistol and Boo was linked to Heard’s bitter falling out with a staffer she sacked just before their trip to Australia by private jet last April.

Callaghan earlier dismissed criminal charges against Heard of illegally importing animals, which attracted a maximum penalty of 10 years jail.

This was in exchange for Heard pleading guilty to making a false customs declaration by ticking a box on her passenger arrival card indicating she had no animals when arriving by private jet in Brisbane on 21 April last year.

Heard offered to cop the plea in exchange for the dropping of the more serious charges almost six months ago but commonwealth prosecutors, acting on instruction from deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce’s agriculture department, rejected the offer.

Heard and Depp, who caused a sensation when they emerged together from a limousine outside Southport magistrates court, sat together in the courtroom as the video in which they laud the importance of Australia’s strict biosecurity laws played.

Heard describes “a treasure trove of unique plants, animals and people” in the video, which her lawyer said had its script vetted by commonwealth prosecutors and was aimed at “achieving some public good” by highlighting Australia’s stance on biosecurity.

Depp says that “Australians are just as unique, both warm and direct. If you disrespect Australian law, they will tell you firmly.”

This was a clear reference to public comments by Joyce, who as agriculture minister called on the couple to send their Yorkshire terriers Pistol and Boo home to California or risk having them euthanised by lethal injection.

Heard in the video says she is “truly sorry that Pistol and Boo were not declared” on her incoming passenger card, adding: “Protecting Australia is important.”

Depp closes the video by saying: “Declare everything when going to Australia.”

Heard’s barrister Jeremy Kirk also made a veiled reference to Joyce when he said comments by “certain representatives of the Australian government” had amplified the public attention towards Heard and compounded the hurtful effects of the case on her.

Depp last year took a shot at Joyce over the incident at the Venice film festival, telling a reporter in a black joke: “I killed my dogs and ate them, under direct orders of some kind of, I don’t know, sweaty, big-gutted man from Australia.”

But Heard facing the Southport magistrates court with Depp amid blanket media attention when the couple had “no other reason to be here today” was an act of “sincere contrition”, Kirk said.

Callaghan found that Heard had taken steps since mid-2014, including getting rabies vaccinations, to have the dogs cleared for entry to Australia, where Depp was shooting the fifth instalment of Pirates of the Caribbean.

But Heard had relied on staff to organise customs paperwork which was never completed, including one who had been sacked.

“Just prior to Ms Heard leaving for Australia, her assistant, one of the staff responsible for that documentation, had been dismissed from her employment in acrimonious circumstances,” Callaghan said.

“There were difficulties associated with this and that had repercussions on the preparation of the documentation concerning the importation of the dogs.

“Further to this Ms Heard had a belief that at the time of arriving that the [passenger arrival card] she filled out did not cover her pets. I accept that she did not set out to deceive the Australian authorities. I also accept it’s not a question of a person thinking she is above the law.”

Joyce posted a link to the couple’s apology video on his Facebook page, and later told reporters he doubted it was something the pair would have “willingly wanted to do”. Still, he gave them credit for acknowledging they had made a mistake.

“I am happy that Ms Heard has admitted that she was wrong and as such, that clearly shows that our position in pursuit of this was correct,” Joyce told journalists. “Every nation has something that they’re red hot about, and we’re red hot about our biosecurity requirements in this nation.”

Heard and Depp were first alerted to problems with their dogs’ paperwork by local media reports.

This prompted an employee of Depp’s, acting on instruction, to reach out to the department of agriculture’s principal vet, which led to the terriers being given their marching orders from Australia three days later.

The dogs – who had stayed with the couple at the Gold Coast mansion of former world motorcycle racing champion Mick Doohan – were found to be “in good health” and had been “isolated from other animals”, Callaghan said.

Callaghan said it was clear from glowing personal references, including from prominent cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, that Heard was “just not another celebrity on the charity bandwagon” .

She was “clearly a good person” who had “never before deliberately flouted the laws of any country regarding the importation of her pets and these were extenuating circumstances”.

Callaghan said she had “no doubt that this whole matter has had a real impact on Ms Heard” and that along with the extraordinary public scrutiny given to her and Depp meant that “personal deterrence” through a tough punishment was not a consideration.

“With regards to the general deterrence factor, quite frankly the department [of agriculture] is better off using that video that had been provided by Mr Depp and his [staff],” she said.

Kirk said no attempt had been made by his client to hide the dogs at Brisbane airport as they were in a “mesh carry bag” and “in plain sight” to customs and border protection officers in the arrivals lounge, Kirk said.

Heard “did not understand the meaning and significance” of declaring “no” to customs’ question about having animals, as she assumed the paperwork for their entry had been lodged separately, he said.

The couple also were concerned for Depp’s health after visiting a doctor in LA about the actor’s injured hand the day before arriving in Brisbane.

Heard had taken Pistol and Boo with her to at least five other countries, including the UK, without incident.

But she was willing to “take no for an answer” on travelling with the dogs and it was a “household rule” not to do so if all the necessary paperwork was not obtained, Kirk said.

The couple had left the dogs home during Depp’s first trip to Australia when filming the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, as well as during their wedding in the Bahamas in February last year.

Heard, who was accompanied to court by her husband Depp, has pleaded guilty to the separate charge of providing a false passenger card to customs on arrival on the Gold Coast in a private jet in April last year.

She had been accused of smuggling the Yorkshire terriers Pistol and Boo on the flight on a visit with Depp, who was filming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

But barrister Peter Callaghan for the commonwealth told the Southport magistrates court that no evidence would be offered on the charges of breaching quarantine laws, which attracted a maximum penalty of 10 years’ jail.

Heard, accompanied by Depp on her entry to the court through a pressing media throng, stood before magistrate Bernadette Callaghan and answered, “Guilty, your honour,” when asked how she would plead to the false document charge.

Providing a false document on entry to Australia under the Migration Act attracts a maximum penalty of 12 months jail and a fine of $10,200.

The incident sparked global headlines when Joyce said the dogs had better “bugger off” back to the US or he’d arrange to have them put down.

The presence of the A-list canines was only discovered when their visit to a Gold Coast dog grooming salon was made public.


Johnny Depp and Amber Heard record PSA to apologise for bringing dogs to Australia
Joshua Robertson @jrojourno

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