Codebreaker Turing receives royal pardon

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Fifty-nine years after his death, codebreaker Alan Turing received a royal pardon by the command of Queen Elizabeth II on December 24, 2013. Turing, a brilliant mathematician and codebreaker, helped Britain win World War Two by cracking code used by German U-boats in the Atlantic. He did this by creating the “bombe” that deciphered code constructed by the German Enigma machines. Turing’s work and that of others at Bletchley Park has been described by many as leading to the defeat of the Nazis during World War Two and to thousands of lives being saved. The pardon recognized his outstanding contribution to the Allied victory and also the development of computing. Unfortunately though it has taken a very long time for Turing to receive his pardon and during the war there was much suspicion of Turing due to his homosexuality. It was even thought by some that Turing couldn’t be trusted as he could be more easily turned because of his homosexuality by those that the British were fighting against.

On March 31, 1952, Turing was found guilty of “divers counts of Gross Indecency” under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which meant that he was convicted of gross indecency for having sex with a man. As a consequence, Turing was faced with having to choose between going to prison of having treatment. Turing elected to have treatment and was sent to a medical practitioner at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. Subsequently, he was chemically castrated with injections of female hormones designed to reduce his libido.

Two years later, Turing was found dead in his apartment by his cleaner. A post-mortem established death due to cyanide poisoning and an inquest later determined that he had committed suicide. He was 41 years at the time of his death.

In 2009, following an internet campaign, UK Prime Minister Gorden Brown issued an apology for the way that Turing had been treated. In 2012, a private member’s bill was put forward before the House of Lord’s (UK) requesting a statutory pardon for Turing. In December 2013 Turing received a royal pardon by the command of Queen Elizabeth II.

Approximately 15,000 men convicted of the same offense as Alan Turing are still alive and campaigners such as Peter Tatchell have called for pardons for all of these other men as well. Tatchell said: “Singling out Turing for a royal pardon just because he was a great scientist and very famous is wrong. At least 50,000 other men were convicted under the same law. They have never been offered a pardon and will never get one. Selective redress is a bad way to remedy a historic injustice.” Tatchell continued: “An apology and pardon is due to the other 50,000-plus men who were also convicted of consenting, victimless homosexual relationships during the twentieth century. These men were criminalized for consenting behavior that was not a crime between heterosexual men and women.”

Image | Joseph Birr-Pixton

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