Widespread Celebrations But No Pardon For Turing
Written by Historian   
Monday, 06 February 2012

A petition signed by over 21,000 people asked the UK Government to grant a pardon to Alan Turing. That request has now been declined.

In the UK and in many parts of the world a great deal is being made of the fact that this year, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing.




This month his contributions to the wartime code breaking are being commemorated on a postage stamp and a new book details his contributions to the development of computers.

But also this month the House of Lords declined to grant a posthumous pardon for the crime of gross indecency for which he was convicted in 1952. Not only was he forced to undergo chemical castration, his security clearance was then withdrawn and he was unable to work for continue his work for GCHQ, Britain's intelligence agency.

Turing committed suicide two year's later

An previous petition, organised by computer security expert and author, John Graham-Cumming in 2009 led to the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown issuing an unequivocal posthumous apology to Mr Turing on behalf of the Government, describing his treatment as "horrifying" and "utterly unfair".

Gordon Brown also said his statement that the country owed him a huge debt and this helped to fuel the surge of attention that Turing's life and work is currently receiving.

When Gordon Brown's apology was included in the Channel 4 documentary celebrating Turing's life and achievements broadcast in November 2011, a new petition was initiated asking for the UK government to consider granting a posthumous pardon to Alan Turing.

In the House of Lords on February 2nd Lord McNally stated that the government had already considered this in 2009 and continued:

"A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted.
It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd-particularly poignant given his outstanding contribution to the war effort. However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place and, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times".

In his blog post today John Graham-Cunningham writes:

It's interesting, to me at least, that the issue of a pardon was considered in 2009 as this was not something I had been asking for. The government's response makes clear that they do not consider a pardon appropriate.

Back in November, Graham-Cunningham explained why he considered the new petition to be a mistake. The government statement largely echoes his sentiments.

As Turing Year continues it seems best to celebrate the achievements of a brilliant polymath, accept his sexual orientation and hope that we are now enlightened enough not to let what happened in the 1950s to recur today.


More Information

UK Government declines to pardon Alan Turing

Why I'm not supporting the campaign for a pardon for Alan Turing

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Last Updated ( Monday, 06 February 2012 )