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Britney Spears speaks out against ‘abusive’ conservatorship at hearing

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Singer Britney Spears arrives at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in New YorkIMAGE COPYRIGHTREUTERS
image captionThe singer has been under the legal arrangement for 13 years

US pop star Britney Spears has launched a blistering attack on the “abusive” conservatorship that has controlled her life for 13 years at a court hearing.

Speaking in open court for the first time in the case, she accused her father of controlling her “100,000%”.

She said she had been denied the right to have more children, and put on the psychiatric drug lithium against her wishes.

Jamie Spears was granted control over her affairs by court order in 2008.

The order was granted after the star was put in hospital amid concerns over her mental health.

Speaking on Wednesday via telephone to a judge in Los Angeles, the pop star said she was traumatised and cried every day. “I just want my life back,” she said.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny thanked Spears for her “courageous” words but made no ruling. A long legal process is likely before any decision is made on ending the conservatorship, the Associated Press reports.

There has been speculation for years about how Spears, 39, felt about the arrangement, with fans eagerly combing her social media output for clues.

“I want to end this conservatorship without being evaluated,” Spears told the court in an emotional 20-minute address by video link.

“I deserve to have a life, I’ve worked my whole life. I deserve to have a two to three-year break.”

Spears, a mother of two, said she wanted to marry her boyfriend and have another baby, but the conservatorship would not allow her to. She accused her conservator of stopping her from having a contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD) removed so she could get pregnant.

She also said she had been put on the drug lithium – a common medicine for bipolar disorder – against her wishes, and that it had made her feel drunk and unable to converse.

“This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good,” she said.

“I’m not happy, I can’t sleep. I’m so angry and I cry every day.”

Specifics of the conservatorship have never been made public.

Jamie Spears stepped down temporarily as his daughter’s personal conservator in 2019 because of health reasons – and the pop star has requested for this to be made permanent.

She is seeking to permanently install Jodi Montgomery, a care professional, into the role instead of reinstating her father.

Jamie Spears was troubled by the singer’s allegations in court, according to his lawyer.

“He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain,” the representative said in a statement read out in court. “Mr Spears loves his daughter, and he misses her very much.”

Jamie Spears’s legal team has previously insisted he has done a good job of managing his daughter’s finances.

Dozens of fans from the so-called #FreeBritney movement gathered outside the court, holding signs reading “Free Britney now!” and “Get out of Britney’s life!”

“Everything she said was absolutely heartbreaking and it was actually even worse than I really thought it was,” Megan Radford, one of the movement’s founders, told the BBC.

“But I’m so thankful that her truth is out there and it cannot be denied anymore.”

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Inside the courtroom

David Willis, BBC News, Los Angeles

Britney Spears unleashed on a stunned courtroom the equivalent of 13 years of pent-up frustration – a torrent of accusation, anger and regret, all delivered in such a breathless monologue that at times the judge had to ask her to slow down.

She came across as isolated, lost and lonely; a superstar that has been relentlessly manipulated. We knew that she had asked to put her case directly to the judge, but few could have predicted such an anguished tirade.

It amounted to a withering critique of the conservatorship process here, and the motives of many – members of her family chief among them – who were supposed to have been caring for her mental anguish.

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What is the conservatorship?

A conservatorship is granted by a court for individuals who are unable to make their own decisions, like those with dementia or other mental illnesses.

Spears’ conservatorship is split into two parts – one is for her estate and financial affairs, the other is for her as a person.

Under this legal agreement, Spears has not controlled her finances since 2008. That’s around the time she began to behave erratically amid her divorce from Kevin Federline and a custody battle over their children.

The star made headlines in a series of public incidents, including shaving her head, and she was twice admitted to hospital.

Timeline: The key dates

First taste of stardom

Britney Spears, 16, catapults to the top of global pop charts with her debut single …Baby One More Time.

The teenage Spears generated both controversy and a loyal fandom
Image captionThe teenage Spears generated both controversy and a loyal fandomIMAGE COPYRIGHT BYGETTY IMAGES

More than 20 years later, her debut album of the same name remains the best-selling album by a teenage solo artist.

Personal struggles burst into public view

Spears is hounded by the press amid a tumultuous custody dispute with ex-husband Kevin Federline, allegations that she is an unfit mother and questions about her mental health.

Spears was often pictured fleeing from tabloid photographers
Image captionSpears was often pictured fleeing from tabloid photographersIMAGE COPYRIGHT BYGETTY IMAGES

Amid the tabloid frenzy, she is captured on camera shaving her head. A few days later, she smashes a paparazzo’s SUV repeatedly with an umbrella.

Spears’ father becomes her conservator

After stints in hospital and rehab, Spears’ father Jamie petitions a Los Angeles court to place his daughter under a temporary conservatorship. He is charged with making decisions about her career, as well as her estate and financial affairs.

The conservatorship is extended indefinitely later that year.

Spears leaving a restaurant in Beverly Hills with her father Jamie
Image captionSpears leaving a restaurant in Beverly Hills with her father JamieIMAGE COPYRIGHT BYGETTY IMAGES

Las Vegas residency

Despite being unable to handle her own affairs, Spears continues to work. After rehabilitating her image with a successful seventh studio album and several appearances on television, she begins a four-year concert residency in Las Vegas.

Spears onstage at the Planet Hollywood resort in Las Vegas
Image captionSpears onstage at the Planet Hollywood resort in Las VegasIMAGE COPYRIGHT BYGETTY IMAGES

Tussling over the conservatorship

Spears says she is taking a break from work because of her father’s health issues. Later in the year, Jamie Spears steps away as her conservator temporarily, citing his poor health.

Britney Spears indicates through her lawyers that she no longer wants her father to be involved in handling her career. A lawyer says Spears is “afraid of her father” and will not return to the stage as long as he retains control.

Framing Britney Spears film premieres

A New York Times documentary about the pop star’s rise and fall, as well as about her treatment by the media, generates mass public interest in her conservatorship.

The piece highlights the #FreeBritney movement, the legions of Spears fans who have stood beside the pop star and attempted to decode her public appearances as calls for help.

What is the #FreeBritney campaign?

The campaigning slogan originates from a fan site that disagreed with the conservatorship agreement in 2009, according to the New York Times.

Campaigners believe the singer has been forced to stay under the arrangement. They regularly demonstrate outside court hearings.

They have even asked the White House to end her conservatorship, submitting petitions with tens of thousands of signatures.

After Spears abruptly cancelled a Las Vegas residency and checked into a mental health centre in 2019 citing emotional distress from her father’s illness, the campaign gained renewed prominence.

Why was this hearing so highly anticipated?

Both the #FreeBritney movement and the recent release of a New York Times documentary about the singer have renewed public interest.

But the pop star has not publicly commented much on the conservatorship battle, although members of her own family have spoken out against the order.

Court records from 2019, the last time she spoke in court, have never been made public. Ms Spears’s online persona has often been very upbeat and she has steered clear of the case.

But the New York Times this week said it had obtained confidential court documents that showed the singer had opposed the restrictions since 2014.

In April, the pop star asked to address the court through her court-appointed attorney.

She has previously indicated through lawyers that she no longer wanted her father to be involved in handling her career and would not perform again if he was.

What has the reaction been?

Since the court appearance, multiple celebrities have posted messages of support.

Pop star Justin Timberlake, her boyfriend in the 1990s, posted a thread of tweets calling for people to stand by her: “After what we saw today, we should all be supporting Britney at this time. Regardless of our past, good and bad, and no matter how long ago it was… what’s happening to her is just not right.”

Timberlake made a public apology to Spears earlier this year after the New York Times documentary suggested he had treated her disrespectfully by discussing their sex life on the radio.

Spears’s current boyfriend, personal trainer and actor Sam Asghari, posted a picture on Instagram of himself in Free Britney T-Shirt.

Singer Mariah Carey tweeted: “We love you Britney!!! Stay strong.”

Rose McGowan, the actor and MeToo activist, said on Twitter that Spears had every right to be angry, adding: “How would you feel if your life was stolen, dissected, mocked? I pray she gets to live your life on her terms. STOP CONTROLLING WOMEN.”

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