World War Two Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing is to receive a posthumous pardon from the British Government almost 60 years after he committed suicide in 1954 following his arrest and conviction for “gross indecency” under the UK’s former legislation outlawing homosexuality.
Turing’s contribution to breaking German military codes during the Second World War is regarded as a key factor in shortening the war and aiding in an Allied victory.
The House of Lords gave the Alan Turing (Statutory Pardon) Bill a second reading last Friday, and the Coalition Government indicated it would not stand in the way of the bill in the House of Commons.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology for Turing’s conviction in 2009, but ministers then argued they could not issue a full pardon as Turing had been found legitimately guilty of what was then a criminal offence.
Government whip Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon argued Parliament indeed had the cause and authority to support Turing’s pardon.
“Appropriately, it was Parliament which decriminalised the activity for which he was convicted. The Government therefore is very aware of the cause to pardon Turing given his outstanding achievement and has great sympathy with the objective of the Bill,” Ahmad said.
“That is why the Government believes it is right that Parliament should be free to respond to this Bill in whatever way its conscience dictates, in whatever way Parliament so wills.”
The Bill was tabled by Liberal Democrat Lord Sharkey, who was taught mathematics at Manchester University by a close friend of Turing, the acclaimed mathematician and executor of Turing’s will Robin Gandy. Sharkey has long campaigned for Turing’s pardon.
“The Government knows 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,” Sharkey said.
As well as his contributions during the war, Turing is widely considered the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, inventing the hypothetical “Turing machine” in 1936, a device simulating the functions of a computer. His ideas also formed the basis for early thought on artificial intelligence, and he is known for the “Turing test” to determine a computer’s ability to mimic human interaction.
Turing was arrested for “gross indecency” in 1952 after calling the police to his house to respond to a burglary and admitting his relationship with a man during the interrogation.