Alan Turing | Great Britain | News | United Kingdom

UK Government Won't Pardon the Late Alan Turing

During World War II, Alan Turing, who is known as the father of modern computing, devised the Turing Bombe, a codebreaking device that was used to decipher the Nazi enigma codes, up to 3,000 messages per day. He was also gay, and two years after being convicted of "gross indecency" for being homosexual and sentenced to undergo hormone therapy, he killed himself with a cyanide-laced apple.

TuringPetitioners recently collected more than 20,000 signatures in an effort to get the UK government to officially pardon Turing.

That won't happen, the BBC reports, as Justice Minister Lord McNally dismissed the motion in the House of Lords:

Mr Turing was one of the key members of the staff at Bletchley Park that worked to crack the German's Enigma codes, and Lord McNally acknowledged that in light of this work he had been treated harshly by the authorities.

"It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd, particularly... given his outstanding contribution to the war effort," he said.

"However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place and, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times."

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology to Turing in 2009.

Turing's life may soon be the subject of a film, and rumor has it that Leonardo DiCaprio is interested.

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Comments

  1. As a gay man who spends a lot of personal and company money I think the best thing I can do to help Mr. Turing and bring it home to the people of Britain that their failure to pardon him is intolerable, is to make sure none of my personal or company money is spent anywhere in Great Britain. I have repeatedly hired British web designers and IT program coders and will now seek that work outside of Great Britain.

    Posted by: OS2Guy | Feb 8, 2012 10:59:36 AM


  2. Um, i dont think that's a very good idea OS2GUY. Its always been the policy that someone should be pardoned if they were innocent of the crime, but he wasnt innocent of the then crime, unjust as the law may have been. He didnt say that the fag deserved to die, he agreed in principal that it was undeserved and wrong.

    I dare say that a future more liberal government will pardon him, but the reasons for not are long standing.

    For what its worth i agree that he should be.

    Posted by: Rovex | Feb 8, 2012 11:10:19 AM


  3. Wasn't there ALREADY a film about Alan Turing, called "Breaking the Code", featuring Derek Jacobi?

    Posted by: Jeffrey P | Feb 8, 2012 11:33:23 AM


  4. @Rovex

    You clearly don't even know what a pardon is:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pardon

    Also, you don't know about Turing:

    As far as the war is concerned, even Churchill said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany and its Axis partners:

    http://goo.gl/O7vgB

    Not just the British victory, but the Allied victory.

    And Captain Jerry Roberts, who worked with Turing at Bletchley Park and who was in a position to see firsthand exactly how his codebreaking interacted with the rest of the war effort, says “without him we would have lost the war.”:

    http://goo.gl/iCmxy

    As for the modern computer,virtually every single computer since the 1940s is built based on the architecture he thought up in the 1930s, including the one your using.

    So, does the world owe its existence to Alan Turing? If you mean the world were the Allies won the war, and with computers and software, in short, the world as we know it: yes.

    Posted by: Mike | Feb 8, 2012 11:43:00 AM


  5. Although I think pardoning Turing DOES have symbolic value I understand McNally's point too.

    The point isn't that convicting Alan Turing was unfair (though it was) but that the LAW ITSELF was unfair, the entire British government was unfair. Turing WAS driven to suicide. Oscar Wilde WAS convicted and harsh prison conditions hastened his death. And nothing is going to change those facts.

    The REAL way to honor those men and others like them is to make sure laws like those never happen again, not symbolic gestures that in no way mitigates what actually happened to them.

    Posted by: Caliban | Feb 8, 2012 11:45:06 AM


  6. LOL!!! I've no doubt the economy of Great Britain will suffer a terrible blow now that you've stopped purchasing your HTML templates from Queen Mum's Website Emporium. Alert Angela Merkel - only she can save them!

    Posted by: endo | Feb 8, 2012 11:46:29 AM


  7. I agree Rovex. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology already. Alan Turing was convicted of a gross indecency, a crime at the time, so a pardon would not be forthcoming, no matter if the person is gay or not. The important thing is, today it wouldn't happen since being gay was legalized in 1967 in the UK and it has made huge equality progress ever since, marriage equality being introduced before the end of the current Parliament. I can live with the government's current position.

    Posted by: Robert in NYC | Feb 8, 2012 11:59:30 AM


  8. Oh joy--just what we need: another straight actor in gayface.

    Posted by: AdamK | Feb 8, 2012 12:18:28 PM


  9. Actually in the US, before the supreme court invalidated Sodomy laws, sexual acts between adult males were illegal. The Boise scandal in the 1950's is a good example that a lot of men were convicted on moral charges. Of course these people were not as famous as Turing.

    Posted by: simon | Feb 8, 2012 12:41:16 PM


  10. Does anyone here know if the Queen herself can pardon Turing? Perhaps give him a posthumous medal.

    Posted by: anon | Feb 8, 2012 12:48:28 PM


  11. it's impossible to downplay the impact Turing has on the modern world.

    he didn't just save the world with the Enigma device. he's the father of the computer.

    the world we live in today is because of alan turing. and there's a reason the whole world is not aware of this - he was gay.

    fact.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Feb 8, 2012 12:54:38 PM


  12. I'm British, and like many gay men and lesbians here, we're furious about this decision.

    OS2GUY, I'd point out that I'm also not happy about a lot of American political decisions - but I still spend my money on American products and holiday in the US. I've contributed to American gay charities in the past.

    There are more effective ways to get change rather than threatening to take your money elsewhere. Make a donation to a British gay charity group such as Stonewall, Outrage or Ben Cohen's Standup.

    Posted by: Tom Stoppard | Feb 8, 2012 1:11:55 PM


  13. Dear Tom Stoppard,
    Thank you for BRAZIL.

    ;-)

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Feb 8, 2012 1:17:53 PM


  14. The comments made weren't to the effect of "TOO BAD!". McNally apologized, and stated that the laws were unjust, but because Turing's punishment was in accordance with the laws of the time, he cannot be pardoned now as per Great Britain's rules.

    Nowhere does he state that Turing /should/ not be pardoned. In fact, he states just the opposite.

    Boycotting the entirety of Great Britain for a law that has been overturned for quite a while is ridiculous.

    Posted by: Yuki | Feb 8, 2012 1:27:42 PM


  15. Good God spare me! Actually spare us all the erroneous logic that suggests that archaic and abusive laws of a certain time period justify the obvious abuse of people!! As Mr. Bumble stated: "The law a ass!"


    Social shifts that endeavor to dignify our diversity and put an end to what is tantamount to xenophobia.

    Every cause that has brought positive social change has had it's martyrs!

    Nelson Mandela
    Rosa Parks
    Martin Luther King Jr, etc, etc, etc.

    And, btw ROVEX, your use of the term 'fag' is demeaning and clearly demonstrates an intolerable position in any healthy civilization. Instead of justifying, get educated you dumbass!

    Posted by: Drew | Feb 8, 2012 1:34:39 PM


  16. When I first started reading I thought that this decision was wrong but Lord McNally has a point. A pardon cannot undo the past but runs the risk of whitewashing it. What is done is done as horrific as it is. This case should act as a reminder of how far we've come and how we need to continually fight to make sure it's not repeated. We shouldn't rewrite history but learn from it.

    Posted by: Jake | Feb 8, 2012 1:43:54 PM


  17. Many thousands of men were convicted of the same 'crime' as Turing in Britain. Homosexuality was only partially decriminalized in Britain in 1967 (age of consent for gay sex was 21, for straight sex it was 16).

    Is the British government worried about facing an avalanche of similar requests for pardon?

    That's easy to solve - issue a blanket pardon to ALL men convicted of homosexuality before it was decriminalised.

    Posted by: Steve | Feb 8, 2012 2:15:17 PM


  18. A lot of you keep harping on the fact that Turing may have been found guilty of a crime, so he shouldn't get a pardon. By definition, a pardon is the forgiveness of a crime and the cancellation of the relevant penalty. A pardon isn't saying he wasn't guilty, he had to be found guilty first to get a pardon. Jesus.

    Posted by: Mike | Feb 8, 2012 10:05:21 PM


  19. Thats about as meaningful as the Roman Catholic church pardoning Joan of Arc. OOPS, so sorry we burned you at the stake. Or 500 years after the fact saying: OOPS Galeleo was right.

    Posted by: jack | Feb 8, 2012 11:20:24 PM


  20. What Mike said. I believe that McNally's implication that equating a pardon with an attempt to alter history is misleading. A pardon this late is more an acknowledgement that the punishment was undeserved.

    Posted by: Mike B. | Feb 8, 2012 11:25:25 PM


  21. Pardoning Turing does an injustice to others convicted under the same laws, and suggests that, due to his heroic stature, Turing was somehow not "guilty"... so what about the other gays and lesbians brutalized by the same laws? Pardon them all, or let the conviction stand so that we may all be forever shamed by it.

    Posted by: Sean | Feb 9, 2012 12:00:05 AM


  22. Who's this pardon for, exactly ?

    I ask because judging from the hysterical comments here you'd think that it would somehow validate people who clearly have acceptance issues that extend far beyond what any pardon could possibly accomplish.

    Picking a high-profile figure from the past and pardoning him, how does this right a wrong or impart any justice ?

    It doesn't, you can't seriously expect the judicial system to give you the validation that you can only give yourselves.

    Spend a little more on therapy, and a little less on porn !

    Posted by: NVTodd | Feb 9, 2012 7:24:37 AM


  23. With respect to the commentators that say he was convicted of a crime on the books at the time, and that the removal of the act as a crime latter, does not justify a pardon, are nuts.

    If a "Crime" is found to be unjust, and is abolished, then ALL convictions for that "Crime" were by definition unjust and undeserved. Therefore, ALL such convictions should now be void and Pardons issued; even for now dead persons.

    Posted by: Jerry6 | Feb 10, 2012 2:08:55 PM


  24. Let's get things in perspective shall we. Homosexuality is criminalised right now today in many parts of the world - Millions of gay men and women are being persecuted right now, today.

    The UK has repealed the laws Turin was prosecuted under, gay rights have been and are being brought into line with those enjoyed by mainstream society - The battle for rights, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion and political freedoms has been won in the UK.

    If you want to help gay rights and relieve the suffering of gay people turn your attention to the parts of the world that still dish out the death sentence to gays, go tackle mainstream Islam or the cranks on the Christian Right.

    Refusing out of protest to buy HTML services from one the world's most free liberal democracies - P-lease.

    Man-up and tackle the real nasty bastards out there.

    Posted by: Joss | Mar 23, 2012 10:27:53 PM


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