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.
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 .