Amelia Gentleman longlist author interview
Amelia Gentleman's longlisted book, The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment, aims to expose more truth behind the scandal, offer a platform to those affected and hold the government to account.
What does it feel like to be longlisted?
I’m thrilled. This is the first book I’ve written and it’s a bit more personal in style than the journalism I’ve done before, so it has been a nerve wracking process. I’m so glad the judges liked it and I hope this means more people will read it.
What inspired you to write this book?
Two years ago I met Paulette Wilson, a grandmother in Wolverhampton who had moved to Britain from Jamaica as a child 50 years earlier. She had just been released from immigration detention, and the Home Office had told her she faced deportation to Jamaica, a country she hadn’t visited in half a century. It was hard to understand why the government was treating a law-abiding pensioner so harshly. Paulette was devastated to have been branded an illegal immigrant after a lifetime in the UK. This was the beginning of an investigation into the Windrush scandal, which revealed that thousands of people had also been wrongly been classified as illegal immigrants; some of them had been arrested, detained and deported, others had been forced out of their homes and jobs. Eventually the government apologised and the Home Secretary resigned. I wanted to make sure the stories of those people wrongly caught up in the hostile environment were not forgotten.
How did you research?
I met dozens of people affected and interviewed them at length. I travelled to Jamaica and found people who were still stuck there after years of wrongly enforced exile. I talked to as many politicians as I could, as well as lawyers and charities. I spoke to Home Office whistleblowers. I did so many interviews that my dictaphone battery exploded with overheating.
How do you think The Windrush Betrayal will influence people’s perception of the government and their trust in it?
I think people will be shocked by what happened, and by the calculated political decisions that led to the scandal. Politicians repeatedly ignored warnings. We have been promised reform of the Home Office and the immigration system, but it hasn’t happened yet, just as the bulk of compensation has yet to be paid to those affected. The government still needs to be held to account.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
I don’t have a favourite, but I think Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside is a brilliant example of a journalist making an extraordinary book from her reporting.
What are you working on next?
I’m looking at the scheme to register 3.4 million EU nationals so they can remain after Brexit, which Labour has warned could be Windrush on steroids. After that I’d like to write about something a bit more joyful.