Codebreaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing is granted a pardon 61 years after he died
Wartime codebreaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing has been granted a posthumous royal pardon, overturning his 1952 conviction for homosexuality.
Turing, who led the team which cracked the German Enigma code, and contributed theoretical and practical work to the early development of computers, was convicted of “indency”, ie homosexuality in 1952. He died two years later, after being excluded from government code work and submitting to hormone treatments known as “chemical castration”. Sixty-one years on, he has been granted a pardon by the Queen, under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.
Campaigners have been fighting for a pardon for the pioneer, whose theoretical papers on the Universal Turing Machine set the groundwork for the development of computers, and whose codebreaking work enabled Allied shipping to evade Nazi submarines, shortening World War II and saving thousands of lives.
A petition was rejected by the government in 2012, before Turing’s centenary last year, but this time Justice Minister Chris Grayling requested the pardon from the Queen.
Turing’s life was “overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed,” said Grayling. “Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.”
It is however, unusual in that a pardon is normally only issued if a person is innocent of the crime of which they were convicted. Turing admitted a homosexual relationship and was convicted under laws which made all such acts illegal. The laws were repealed and homosexuality decriminalised by the Sexual Offences law in 1967, although the age of consent for homosexual intercourse has only recently been brought into line with that for heterosexual sex.
A wider pardon?
Campaigners are now calling for Turing’s pardon to be extended to all those convicted of homosexuality under the law. “This is welcome news, though it might have been even better as part of a general pardon for all who have criminal records for the same reason,” said the Astronomer Royal Lord Rees, who argued for the Pardon in the House of Lords.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell called for a pardon for “another 50,000-plus men who were also convicted of consenting, victimless homosexual relationships during the 20th century.”
It is generally accepted that Turing committed suicide following the double blow of his chemical castration and exclusion from top-level government work. However, last year this was questioned. Turing died of cyanide poisoning, and half-eaten apple was found by his bed, but the apple was never tested and nor was a suicide note found, said Professor Jack Copeland at a Turing conference in 2012.
Rather than being suicidal, Turing was bearing up under his appalling situation, and may have accidentally inhaled the cyanide in his home laboratory, said Copeland last year: “Turing was hounded. Yet he remained cheerful and humorous.”
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