Lords bill may pardon gay computer hero Alan Turing

New legislation may give the late Alan Turing, the mathematician which helped the Allies win World War II, a pardon for his gay sex conviction

Lords bill may pardon gay computer hero Alan Turing
25 July 2012

Alan Turning, the father of computing and World War II hero, may be pardoned for his 1952 conviction for having sex with another man thanks to Britain’s House of Lords.

Turing helped crack the Enigma code, helping the Allies understand German communications and ultimately win the Second World War.

But in 1952 he was convicted for ‘gross indecency’ with another man by a British court and accepted treatment with female hormones – also known as chemical castration – as an alternative to prison.

Those events are blamed for his decision to commit suicide just two years later.

Now a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, frustrated by the lack of progress in giving Turing a posthumous pardon has drafted his own bill to get his record wiped clean.

Lord Sharkey said: ‘Alan Turing helped save this country. His work on cracking the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park during World War II undoubtedly changed the course of the war and saved many thousands of lives.

‘Instead of being rewarded by his country, he was cruelly punished and convicted simply for being gay.

‘If my Bill becomes law, as I hope it will, then this will finally go some way towards acknowledging the debt we all owe to Alan Turing and grant him the pardon he so clearly deserves.’

The bill is only just over 200 words long but as a private members bill it will be given little time to progress through parliament. Theoretically it could be passed in just a few hours but with the Lords now in recess for the summer it will not be debated now until early autumn and could then take months to get through, if it does at all.

However, it does already have support across the major political parties.

And in the House of Commons Liberal Democrats Member of Parliament (MP) for Manchester Withington, John Leech, is confident the campaign he has been at the forefront of will work.

‘We have been negotiating hard with the Government on granting a posthumous pardon to Alan Turing,’ he said.

‘Lord Sharkey will take a Bill to grant Turing a pardon through the Lords and I will take it through the Commons, and we are fully expecting Lords and MPs to back us.

‘Alan Turing was wrongly persecuted and it is time justice is done. We need to recognize the mistakes made in the past and that the government at the time was wrong in pursuing his conviction.’

Officials have previously refused longstanding calls to pardon Turing saying his conviction was in the context of laws at the time and, while tragic, his history can not be rewritten.

However the war hero’s legacy lives on. After the war he continued his work in computing, helping develop the first stored-program computers. He also developed the Turing Test as a hypothetical way to see if future computers really are ‘intelligent’.

Some claim the Apple logo – a rainbow apple with a bite taken out is a tribute to Turing as his suicide was by eating an apple dipped in cyanide.

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