Royal pardon for codebreaker Alan Turing


Computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing has been given a posthumous royal pardon, as Danny Shaw reports

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Computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing has been given a posthumous royal pardon.

It addresses his 1952 conviction for gross indecency following which he was chemically castrated.

He had been arrested after having an affair with a 19-year-old Manchester man.

The conviction meant he lost his security clearance and had to stop the code-cracking work that had proved vital to the Allies in World War Two.

The pardon was granted under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy after a request by Justice Minister Chris Grayling.

'Appalling' treatment

"Dr Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind," said Mr Grayling.

He said the research Turing carried out during the war at Bletchley Park undoubtedly shortened the conflict and saved thousands of lives.

Turing centenary

Alan Turing

2012 saw a series of events that celebrated the life and work of Alan Turing. The events were held to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth

Turing's work helped accelerate Allied efforts to read German Naval messages enciphered with the Enigma machine. He also contributed some more fundamental work on codebreaking that was only released to public scrutiny in April 2012.

"His later 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conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed," said Mr Grayling.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."

The pardon comes into effect on 24 December.

Turing died in June 1954 from cyanide poisoning and an inquest decided that he had committed suicide. However, biographers, friends and other students of his life dispute the finding and suggest his death was an accident.

Many people have campaigned for years to win a pardon for Turing.

Author Barry Cooper: Turing "created blueprint for computer"

Dr Sue Black, a computer scientist, was one of the key figures in the campaign.

She told the BBC that she hoped all the men convicted under the anti-homosexuality law would now be pardoned.

"This is one small step on the way to making some real positive change happen to all the people that were convicted," she said.

"It's a disgrace that so many people were treated so disrespectfully."

Some have criticised the action for not going far enough and, 59 years after Turing's death, little more than a token gesture.

"I just think it's ridiculous, frankly," British home computing pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair told the BBC.

"He's been dead these many years so what's the point? It's a silly nonsense.

"He was such a fine, great man, and what was done was appalling of course. It makes no sense to me, because what's done is done."

'It's very wrong'

Lord Sharkey, a Liberal Democrat peer who wrote a private member's bill calling for a royal pardon in July 2012, said the decision was "wonderful news".

Turing memorial sculptor Glyn Hughes: "What about all the other thousands of gay men who were prosecuted?"

"This has demonstrated wisdom and compassion," he said. "It has recognised a very great British hero and made some amends for the cruelty and injustice with which Turing was treated."

Vint Cerf, the computer scientist known as one of the founding fathers of the internet, also welcomed the development.

"The royal pardon for Alan Turing rights a long-standing wrong and properly honours a man whose imagination and intellect made him legendary in our field," he told the BBC.

Technology entrepreneur Mike Lynch added: "Society didn't understand Alan Turing or his ideas on many levels but that was a reflection on us, not on him - and it has taken us 60 years to catch up."

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: "I pay tribute to the government for ensuring Alan Turing has a royal pardon at last but I do think it's very wrong that other men convicted of exactly the same offence are not even being given an apology, let alone a royal pardon.

"We're talking about at least 50,000 other men who were convicted of the same offence, of so-called gross indecency, which is simply a sexual act between men with consent."

Mr Tatchell said he would like to see Turing's death fully investigated.

"While I have no evidence that he was murdered, I do think we need to explore the possibility that he may have been killed by the security services. He was regarded as a high security risk," he said.

'Not entirely comfortable'

Glyn Hughes, the sculptor of the Alan Turing Memorial in Manchester, said it was "very gratifying" that he had finally been pardoned.

"When we set out to try and make him famous - get him recognised - it was really difficult to collect money," he said.

Big screen

Turing's life is the subject of upcoming Hollywood movie The Imitation Game, which focuses on the cracking of the Enigma code. Starring Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, the film is due for release next year.

Channel 4's TV film Codebreaker, about the highs and lows of Turing's life, was aired in 2011.

And during the 2012 celebrations of the centenary of Turing's birth, a Welsh digital arts festival - the Abandon Normal Devices (AND) Festival - featured a laser image of Turing projected from Conwy Castle into the sky.

Although Turing was born in London, he had strong connections with north Wales.

The Italianate village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd was one of Turing's favourite places.

But it was in northern England where Turing spent the last six years of his life, working at Manchester University in various specialist fields including mathematical logic and philosophy.

"None of the big computer companies would stump up a penny for a memorial. They perhaps would now - we've come a very long way."

But he said he was "not entirely comfortable" that Turing had been pardoned while thousands of other gay men had not.

"The problem is, of course, if there was a general pardon for men who had been prosecuted for homosexuality, many of them are still alive and they could get compensation."

In December 2011, an e-petition was created on the Direct Gov site that asked for Turing to be pardoned. It received more than 34,000 signatures but its request was denied by the then justice secretary, Lord McNally, who said Turing was "properly convicted" for what was at the time a criminal offence.

Prior to that in August 2009, a petition was started to request a pardon. It won an official apology from the prime minister at the time, Gordon Brown, who said the way Turing was persecuted over his homosexuality was "appalling".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1354.

    1338 LucyJ - For a so-called brilliant man, Turing wasn't very smart

    Smarter than you I'm guessing.

    Why should he have to hide it? Or lie to the police?
    This pardon is a small thing, but it recognises that what was done back then was wrong.

    In March, when homosexual marriage becomes legal in UK law, we'll have some more progress. When society fails to disintegrate, what will you say then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1353.

    If you are going to pardon this guy for being Gay then you should pardon all the Soldiers executed for cowardice in WW1.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1352.


    Actually, he was pardoned because it was felt his contributions to society outweighed the crime he committed.

    There's a big difference between pardoning a crime and quashing a conviction. This doesn't, in any way, alter the conviction for which he was castrated, it just alters the judgement passed FOR that conviction. Not that it does poor Mr. Turing any good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1351.

    Now some wicked person will spoil the day and celebrations, by showing Turing´s Bulgarian birth certificate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1350.

    Disgusting that the man who arguably, along with his team, made one of the greatest contributions to the allied war effort in WW2 was treated like dirt by the country he helped to save.

    He is a national hero ... perhaps worth more than NEGATIVE one times a billion bankers.

    and almost certainly worth NEGATIVE one times a thousand trillion to the power of a million trillion parking wardens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1349.

    ..the police had no choice but to arrest him

    they had every choice, there's no requirement for the police to pursue every possibility of prosecution & they frequently didn't. It often was & is the case where someone reports a serious offence & admits a minor one in the process that they are not pursued

  • rate this

    Comment number 1348.

    1339. StrongPimphand
    Tell me, what drives a man (?) to spend all of Xmas Eve spouting anti-gay bile, or cheering on other posters spewing anti-gay bile? Do gays really bother you that much? Or do you simply not have a life yourself?

  • Comment number 1347.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1346.


    For a so-called brilliant man, Turing wasn't very smart


    So you would have lied to the police or let a burglary go unreported?

    Don't judge others by your standards Lucy. Besides your beloved US is hardly in a position to dictate right and wrong atm!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1345.

    @1334 Tio Terry

    Did "not in the public interest" exist at the time of the offence? I don't know about that, but you were talking about all laws, now you have changed to this specific incident

    Why did you move the goalposts?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1344.

    Amazed that there is so much controversy over this. Whether it was right or wrong what was done to Turing (it was right in the law of the day, poor as it was). Either way, it isn't going to bring Turing back or make him any more of a hero than already acknowledged. Seems to me that these days we are obsessed with crimes committed (or not) decades ago rather than pursuing current criminals-easy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1343.

    It's absolutely right that someone who served their country during WWII and as well was the leading pioneer in computer science should be honoured. To have been chemically castrated is no better than Nazi ideology. Clive Sinlair for shame on your comments that what's done is done - shall we besmirch your legacy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1342.

    Cue thinly veiled homophobia under the guise of 'well, it was the law, wasn't it, hmm, I'm so thoughtfully cautious of this' and the slightly less sophisticated 'OMG you leftie communist types rewriting history and stifling my opinion on this international public forum, waa'

    Merry Xmas guys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1341.

    @1316 Nick

    A posthumous pardon in this case had been made not because Turing was in the wrong but that the law was wrong. The country has now grown up and seen this as such. It is right and always will be right to correct the mistakes of the past (as much as possible) whatever they may be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1340.

    He has been given a royal pardon? He did nothing wrong; they should be asking for pardon, not giving it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1339.

    624. Shaunie Babes
    How Homosexual equality works:

    Q. Should homosexuals be treated under the law the same as heterosexuals ?
    A. Yes

    Q.Was Alan Turing guilty ?

    Q. Then why should be pardon him ?
    A. Because he was a homosexual.

    The best post today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1338.

    'Murray told Turing that the burglar was an acquaintance of his, and Turing reported the crime to the police. During the investigation he acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray'

    So Turing told the police he was gay in which the police had no choice but to arrest him

    For a so-called brilliant man, Turing wasn't very smart

  • rate this

    Comment number 1337.

    @1286 LucyJ
    "But if he was flaunting it, then that was his own fault for such. Britain is clearly making the statement they are a heavily pro-gay country"


    So man who made a massive contribution to society deserved to be CASTRATED and driven to suicide for harming NO ONE?

    I am at a loss as to what motivates people like you. Hate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1336.

    Lets have posthumous pardons for all those convicted under British (or English) Law for crimes of fighting against invaders in their own land. For example:

    Those shot after the Easter Rising in Dublin.

    William Wallace.

    The pardon for Turing is clearly a 'safe' event:)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1335.

    Turing was convicted as a result of his house being burgled. He reported the crime and ended up in court because his sexuality came out in the investigation. Whatever the law of the land was in 1952 it was wrong and his persecution probably drove him to take his own life. Whatever we do now doesn't change that fact but it does show that we have moved on since those dark days and that's important


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