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The Home Office is the UK governmental body responsible for keeping our citizens safe and the country secure, enforcing policies around immigration, crime, counter-terrorism and more.

In recent years - particularly under former home secretaries Theresa May and Priti Patel - these policies have been subject to renewed scrutiny and criticism, as journalists and news outlets analyse and debate the merits and legalities of a tougher Conservative line on immigration. It has resulted in stories and political scandals from Windrush to Rwanda.

Today we speak to someone who understands both the worlds of the Home Office and the media very well.

Nicola Kelly is a freelance journalist who writes mostly for The Guardian on immigration affairs. This is in large part helped by an unusual career u-turn. She spent seven years working in PR roles across different governmental departments, latterly in the media relations team at the Home Office in 2014. That was before switching sides and deciding to work in journalism.

Last month, Kelly contributed to a special Slow newscast podcast episode from Tortoise Media called Hostile environment: inside the Home Office. Named after the policy of the same name, the podcast seeks to understand how Britain arrived at this approach to reducing the number of immigrants in the UK with no right to remain. 

Her job was to investigate the modern Home Office work culture, rustling up old sources and former colleagues to find out what is driving these increasingly hostile immigration policies, most notably the Rwanda deportation policy; a government arranged and funded one-way ticket for refugees arriving in Britain to an African country with a poor human-rights record.

What she found was growing disquiet in the Home Office and sources willing to speak out (even if not on the record, but certainly at the risk of their careers). In this week's podcast, Kelly reveals insider tips on gaining access to sources and the red tape journalists can expect when reporting on a government department such as the Home Office.

With new political leadership afoot in the UK and increasingly leaks finding their way to the British press, there is no better chance for journalists to heed the words of someone who has switched sides. Tune in now.

Correction: Nicola Kelly has spent seven years working in PR, not two, as stated in a previous version of this article and podcast.

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