Atheist war hero Turing is finally to be pardoned for a gay ‘offence’ committed in the 1950s

THE news that the UK Government  is prepared to support a backbench bill that would pardon Alan Turing, who died from cyanide poisoning at the age of 41 in 1954 after he was subjected to chemical castration for a gay offence, has been welcomed by the LGBT humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust.

Turing, known as the father of computer science, was the code breaker who helped win World War 2.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing

The pardon follows a campaign launched in 2009 with a petition calling on the Government to recognise the “consequences of prejudice” that ended the life of the scientist.

Notable among the campaign’s supporters was the well-known atheist and humanist Professor Richard Dawkins who said that an apology would “send a signal to the world which needs to be sent”, and that Turing might still be alive today if it were not for the repressive, religion-influenced laws which drove him to despair.

The author of The God Delusion, who presented a television programme for Channel 4 on Turing, said the impact of the mathematician’s war work could not be overstated.

 Turing arguably made a greater contribution to defeating the Nazis than Eisenhower or Churchill. Thanks to Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park, allied generals in the field were consistently, over long periods of the war, privy to detailed German plans before the German generals had time to implement them.

After the war, when Turing’s role was no longer top-secret, he should have been knighted and fêted as a saviour of his nation. Instead, this gentle, stammering, eccentric genius was destroyed, for a ‘crime’, committed in private, which harmed nobody.

PTT Secretary George Broadhead commented:

It was great to have such a prominent atheist and humanist as Richard Dawkins adding his weight to the campaign and it is highly significant that he identified religious-influenced laws as being to blame for Turing’s suicide.

As a gay atheist himself, Alan Turing is a humanist hero and a pardon after the appalling way he was treated for being gay is long overdue.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a government whip, told peers that the government would table the third reading of the Alan Turing (statutory pardon) bill at the end of October if no amendments are made.

If nobody tables an amendment to this bill, its supporters can be assured that it will have speedy passage to the House of Commons.

The announcement marks a change of heart by the government, which declined last year to grant pardons to the 49,000 gay men, now dead, who were convicted under the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act. They include Oscar Wilde.

Ahmad told peers:

Alan Turing himself believed that homosexual activity would be made legal by a royal commission. In fact, appropriately, it was parliament which decriminalised the activity for which he was convicted. The government are very aware of the calls to pardon Turing, given his outstanding achievements, and have great sympathy with this objective … That is why the government believe it is right that parliament should be free to respond to this bill in whatever way its conscience dictates and in whatever way it so wills.

The government threw its weight behind the private member’s bill, promoted by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey, who said:

As I think everybody knows, he was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency and sentenced to chemical castration. He committed suicide two years later. The government know that Turing was a hero and a very great man. They acknowledge that he was cruelly treated. They must have seen the esteem in which he is held here and around the world.

However, Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall, described the pardon as “pointless”, saying:

A more proper apologia might be to ensure that Turing’s achievements, and his treatment by the nation that benefited, are included in every pupil’s school curriculum. The 55% of gay pupils in our secondary schools who were homophobically bullied in the last 12 months might derive lasting reassurance from that .



31 responses to “Atheist war hero Turing is finally to be pardoned for a gay ‘offence’ committed in the 1950s”

  1. barriejohn says:

    Broga/Angela et al: You’re wasting your time with these idiots. Like the stupid “Fatima-Zahra” (if “she” is genuine), they find life and the real world so frightening that they have retreated into a little make-believe world of their own. Their imaginary Sky-Daddy will keep them safe and make everything all right for them, and if there are things that he can’t fix for some reason that they don’t comprehend then never mind, he will make it all come good in the wonderful “afterlife” that he has prepared for them. Though there isn’t a scrap of evidence for any of this nonsense they prefer the fantasy to the harsh realities of life, so reasoning with them is a pointless exercise, and doomed to failure. You will come up against a brick wall every time, because if they REALLY started to question their beliefs the whole house of cards would come crashing down around their ears and well they know it!

  2. barriejohn says:

    Sorry – wrong thread!

  3. the Woggler says:

    I’m sure Alan Turing will be pleased to hear this. Still, at least it shows this country has grown up a little.

  4. AgentCormac says:

    It beggars belief not only that such a thing as ‘chemical castration’ could be inflicted on a person who did so much to defeat a regime notorious for inhumane treatment, but also that it should take such torturous and long-winded efforts to put the record, rather belatedly, straight.

  5. Marky Mark says:

    “Notable among the campaign’s supporters was the well-known atheist and humanist Professor Richard Dawkins who said that an apology would “send a signal to the world which needs to be sent”, and that Turing might still be alive today if it were not for the repressive, religion-influenced laws which drove him to despair.”

    I seen a Doc about this guy on history channel. They even mentioned that he was persecuted for being gay.

    Education about the real facts of religion at a young age is the only way to counter this, as this is what religion does…get them when their young.

    It did bother me as a child why hate was as much a part of this love message the Catholic Church was pouring into my Brain. I even heard my mother once say, “Their Baptist…stay away from them.”

  6. Broga says:

    One of the great injustices of the last century. The supreme irony is that it was Turing’s work that ensured, and ensures, that the persecuting religious bigots were, and are not, living under a Nazi regime. Turing’s vast contribution makes a interesting comparison with the ineffective Mountbatten. But then Mountbatten had religious connections which enabled him to perpetrate his disasters which cost lives.

  7. Trevor Blake says:

    I recommend Hodge’s book and site, The Enigma…

  8. barriejohn says:

    Turing was a true hero, I know, and his death, suicide or not, was a tragedy, but you have to ask why only him.

  9. barriejohn says:

    Read these letters:

    The news that Alan Turing is to be “pardoned” for consensual adult homosexual acts (Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing to be given posthumous pardon; 17 July) engenders mixed feelings among his many admirers. His conviction was, in reality, a government crime. The UK government should be confessing that his chemical castration was actually a crime against humanity. A memorial to Turing and other gay victims of this state-sponsored persecution would be a more appropriate response because one can only be pardoned for a crime. Turing was not a criminal but a very distinguished victim of a legal witchhunt against adult homosexuals that showed no mercy – even to a national hero.

  10. L.Long says:

    I’m with Barriejohn but even more so. The govmint should acknowledge that the whole affair was crime by a bigoted govmint and that all such ‘religiously’ base laws should be reexamined and eliminated.
    But this will never happen because, like USA,the govmint is stilled controlled too much by bigoted religious monkeys that like throwing their shit at everyone.
    Are there any of Turing’s peers still alive that were persecuted by the state? If so, when the law is solid, they should get a class action suit together and sue the shit our of the govmint.
    But they will probably just give Turning a pardon which not the same thing as saying it was legal being gay, as a pardon states that you were guilty but we don’t care any more. So nothing will be printed that states it really wasn’t a crime. It amounts to just more shit being thrown by monkeys; it just has perfume on it.

  11. charlie says:

    Nice, but NOT enough. Apologize for ALL such bigotry, then I might be impressed. This is just window dressing, even though long overdue.
    I agree with the above comments, what about ALL the others who were persecuted for what they did in private with consenting partners? They deserve a pardon or better also.

  12. AgentCormac says:

    It seems that god was not on hand earlier to offer guidance the driver of the Rio poop mobile who got a bit mixed up and took Frankie on an unscheduled detour.

  13. Angela_K says:

    It is good news but a somewhat of a shallow gesture. Would it not be better if every child of school age be taught about Turing, the contribution he made and how badly he was treated by a religiously guided Government?

  14. Broga says:

    Some injustices are just so grotesquely wicked that it seems unbearable not to turn the clock back to put them right. And this is one of those. The driving force behind the injustice is, of course, the same religion that defends paedophile priests. One small contribution we can make is to hold religion up for examination; to attack its sheer, sick vindictiveness and to expose to ridicule those who defend its nonsense.

  15. T says:

    To all those born in Europe after WW2 had ended. Think on this. Turing had a huge effect on shortening the war. If WW2 had lasted even a day or two longer your parents, or grand parents or even great grand parents at the time would have been doing something different and the instant of conception crucial to your existence would never have occurred. You owe your very existence to Turing.

  16. Harry says:

    Of course these days they’d have discovered that he’d let his partner spank him and they’d have locked him up for that instead.

    We’re a crap country.

  17. Matt+Westwood says:

    What, is spanking illegal now or something? Well, throw away the key on me, duckie …

  18. Robster says:

    Got to make lots of noise about this. Turing’s treatment was morally wrong but reflected the influence of religious ‘morality’ of the time. For that to be recognised as a major mistake and promoted as the reason for Turing’s suicide will be yet another example of why religion, its touters and practitioners are such a menace to all of us.

  19. barriejohn says:

    Matt: Better be careful – though you might enjoy the prison experience!

  20. bettydavis says:

    I too struggle with the word pardon, as he committed no crime, and that is what should be recognised.

  21. Stephen Mynett says:

    Agreed, I think a posthumous apology would be much better. No good for him but it does no harm to a society to recognise how bad it was in the past and, in this case, for no reason other than bigotry.

    Personally, I would like to see a Turing scholarship prize, or something like that. He was a mathematical genius and an award that helps someone get an education in that field would be a fitting memory to a great man.

  22. Broga says:

    @Stephen Mynett: I like your suggestions. The stumbling block is that many politicians and priestly types are, to say the least, cool about honouring this great man as he deserves. You can sense the restraint as they mouth the words being forced out of them. Cameron being one example. Getting the words out is like pulling teeth. They are quick enough to lard scoundrels with honours and send them to the House of Lords.

  23. Stephen Mynett says:

    Broga, I would make only one slight alteration to your post, perhaps it should read, getting the words out is like pulling hen’s teeth.

  24. 1859 says:

    I teach in a large secondary school where homophobic sentiments are rife – though, of course, everyone proclaims they have nothing against gays. Occasionally I often spice up my lessons with the story of how in 1940, Hitler almost over-ran Britain, but thanks to a brilliant mathematician called Alan Turing we had the edge because he learnt how to crack the German’s Enigma code etc. I portray Turing as a real lonely, unassuming, shy hero whose vivid mathematical intelligence helped to save thousands of allied lives. By the end of my story the kids are almost weeping and jumping out of their seats shouting ‘Long Live Turing!’ Then I deliver my punch line -‘By the way, Turing was a homosexual. So the next time you bad-mouth gay people just remember you owe your freedom to a gay man.’ Then the bell goes and I leave the room.

  25. Bubblecar says:

    A “pardon” seems ethically absurd to me because Turing was convicted under the laws that prevailed at the time. To “pardon” him now amounts to pretending those unjust laws didn’t really exist. In a moral sense, Turing did nothing wrong and doesn’t need “pardoning”. It’s those who persecuted him who should be begging our pardon, not their victims.

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  28. Canada Dave says:

    There is still a good many places where being gay can cost you your life.

  29. Harry says:

    I would rather we don’t pardon him at all. His conviction stands as a source of shame for all of us and rightly so.

    As for spanking, yes the new refuge of the homophobes is to claim that deviant sex causes all the same issues they used to accuse gays of causing, and coincidentally they make sure that anything other than putting a penis into a vagina can technically be considered deviant sex. I wonder what kind of couples this is aimed at, hmmm?