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7 Feb 2012

No posthumous pardon for Alan Turing; gay computing pioneer still a criminal

An online petition signed by over 23,000 people which called on the UK government to grant a posthumous pardon to Alan Turing has been rejected.

"A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence," the BBC reported Justice Minister Lord McNally as saying when the motion was dismissed in the House of Lords last week.

The UK Royal Mail is issuing a Turing commemorative stamp as part of the Alan Turing year commemorations. Bletchley Park has issued a special first day cover designed by Rebecca Peacock of Firecatcher Design for the "Turing Bombe" stamp (shown above). The design is based on Turing's work with patterns and their basis in mathematics. Funds raised will go the Bletchley Park Trust. This special first day cover can be ordered online here

Regarded by many as the father of computing, the English mathematician and computer scientist (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was best known for his role in formalising the basics of computer science before he was arrested and eventually convicted for “gross indecency” in 1952.

That year, while reporting a break-in attempt on his house to police, Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with another man and was charged with gross indecency as homosexual acts were illegal at the time in Britain. He underwent a hormone injection programme (chemical castration) as an alternative to a prison sentence. He was also stripped of his security clearance and was unable to work on secret government projects.

Before his arrest, he was a key member of the team that cracked Germany’s Enigma code during the Second World War and later helped formalise the concepts of “algorithm” and “computation” which were vital to the development of computer science.

He soon spiralled into depression and ultimately took his own life two years later, in 1954.

The latest online petition is different from the successful petition two years ago that called on the British Government to apologise for its persecution of Alan Turing. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown formally apologised in September 2009, describing Turing's treatment as "horrifying" and "utterly unfair" as well as praising Turing's outstanding contribution to the war effort.

According to the Hansard transcript available online, Lord McNally stated that the government considered a posthumous pardon in 2009, adding: "A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted." 

He continued: "It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd – particularly poignant given his outstanding contribution to the war effort. 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."

As this year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, a series of events are being held around the world to commemorate his contributions. Visit the 2012 The Alan Turing Year website for details.

United Kingdom

Reader's Comments

1. 2012-02-07 18:38  
Failed Britain...
2. 2012-02-07 19:11  
This is completely ridiculous - the things people let themselves get worked up about is astonishing. Even some guy above me on the comments saying "Failed Britain" - what tosh! As Aristotle put it, "the law is reason without passion" - as soon as we let emotions into our legal system, an emotional legal system is the foundation of a fascist state! Britain has legalised gay marriage, and has introduced numerous measures to "positively discriminate" in favour of the LGBT community. We have legal protection, and a superb LGBT support network and media coverage. This story about Turing is nothing but a spin. The law at the time was bad, that's why it was changed - but we can't just go making exceptional cases of people pardoning this, that and the other. The gov issued an apology for it, and we all agree it was terrible. But what's done is done. The British should be proud that even our current pretty lousy government won't let the superb English legal system succumb to the emotional will of the masses. And we should be more proud that our society as it is has come so far in such a short time - a shining example of how real change can happen in just a short time. A message to the chinese who are still saying "China will never change". Finally, we should celebrate Alan Turing's life and achievements, and not dwell on the appalling circumstances surrounding his downfall. He was a great Briton and that should be enough!
3. 2012-02-07 21:06  
Tommy, very well said, you are absolutely right. Why the negativity "willforyou" ?
4. 2012-02-07 22:53  
thanks, moonlightdragon

To use another analogy - I was fined for speeding once when I was caught driving 35mph in a 30 zone. that same zone was redesignated as a 40 zone 12 months later. Should I be given a pardon for my past transgressions? Perhaps you all think I'm oversimplifying the issue, but as I see it the law must not break down in the way people are proposing. I was charged with something that now used to be an offence - but you don't just get pardon when the law changes - imagine the chaos of the system that had to pardon everyone for their past as the laws were changing.

I am as big a Turing fan as anyone else. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. But, there is more at stake here. This petition is asking the law to submit to the emotional will of the public - this is unthinkable! The law adapts based on pure reason and reason alone. It must NEVER be tainted with emotion - because that IS how nearly every fascist regime ever started - an emotion changes a few key laws, and BOOM.

We have much bigger and more real problems to be dealing with in our current world. Think about the homosexual community in Uganda right now, persecuted and oppressed by their government, to name but one issue. Is the west truly so decadent and self-assured, that we must now probe into the past to try and somehow gain retribution for past mistakes? When will people learn that the problems of today merit our attention so much more?
Comment #5 was deleted by its author on 2012-02-07 23:27
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Comment #8 was deleted by its author on 2012-02-08 19:14
Comment #9 was deleted by its author on 2012-02-07 23:28
Comment #10 was deleted by its author on 2012-02-07 23:20
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Comment #12 was deleted by its author on 2012-02-08 19:15
13. 2012-02-08 00:34  
I love willforyou's comments.
I do feel that gays tend to just abstract it all away.
I just saw a bunch of young gay boys groping their way out of a huge dark love jungle with fresh stabs on their young hearts a few days ago when they tried to connect with other strange gay souls in an immature erotic party without knowledge of almost any skill of love.
It's all so dangerous and harmful but there's no coach around to help them escape from the unintended or intended hurts from the erotic games.
If even gay seniors cannot coach their young friends, what help would you expect the (ignorant, if not sinister) het world to offer them?

And sinister het laws need better treatment than abolition.
Comment edited on 2012-02-08 21:19:07
Comment #14 was deleted by its author on 2012-02-08 00:37
15. 2012-02-08 01:42  
"I am my OWN law" sounds like anarchy to me...the Old West of the post Civil War era...the law of the jungle.
Comment #16 was deleted by its author on 2012-02-08 01:43
17. 2012-02-08 01:43  
Sorry...duplicated comment
18. 2012-02-08 02:06  
Hmm i see this is a difficult one. i wonder if turin would have missed the fact that nazi law condembed mang to death. including gays.. and that is universally condemned. persecution was legal in european controlled nazi germany.. sk much fof the rule of law. a war hero. a najestic jntellect. chose deatb jnstead of either humiliating option. forgiveness yes fir an ill thiught law. excusing this welk was it reasonable to put people on fires..hencs the word fags.. or ti burry people jn lime.. i understand yhe valud pojnt on the law Nd the quote. but lers not forget what is right ir that people are still suffering from the extension of legalised antipathy from 1885 anti gay laws throughout the empire.. i aloplogise for the term.
No one us perfect and i dk nof equate imperialism with naziism.. i merely suggest fhe rule of law is not perfect
19. 2012-02-08 02:39  
hypocritical motivation of rejection, gross indecency of justice minister, proof that england leaders are still homophobic
20. 2012-02-08 03:33  
According to TommyUK123 , all that is law is right. What an inane and insensitive statement to make. Please tell that to the relatives of the millions who perished at the hands of Adolf Hitler. Please tell that to those who suffered the indignity of being classified as subhuman , during the years of Apartheid in South Africa. Please tell that to the descendants of the slaves in the USA. Why don't you go for a trip to Northern Ireland, and say those those words to the relatives of all those who perished for the sake of making Britain understand that the days of the empire were long dead and buried.
21. 2012-02-08 06:19  
The man's been dead for almost 60 years. So 23,000 people signed an electronic petition. Wow! Some real hard-working, feet on the street activists in that bunch; actually going through the trouble of pasting their email address to a webpage calling for the pardoning of dust and bones.

This story (and its ensuing comments) epitomizes one of the gay community's conundrums: People get all in a huff over a non-story, a ceremonial and inconsequential "pardon" for a dead man some two years after the British PM apologized for the appalling treatment of the gay community (in the macro) and Turing (in the micro). Maybe a little less squawking and debate about or grandfather's legalities - and a little more focus on contemporary injustices is in order.

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22. 2012-02-08 07:35  
The law is dispassionate and that's what makes it civilised. Bringing passion and strong emotions into law is exactly what causes problems in the first place. Religious passions, unfounded fascist viewpoints, personal feelings have lead module modern Islamic Republic of Iran, the paranoid, corrupt and fake-crying state of North Korea, even the neo-Nazism of parts of Britain and the problems surrounding the so-called Holy Land. This is no exaggeration, it is a sad fact.

All of these foolish disputes and regimes could be verturned by logic and reason. Looking at morality and ethics dispassionately is what helps us to legislate in favour of gays, going the other way will only hurt us all.

Turing's case was sad, but that was the situation back then and Turing cannot be resurrected and retried by today's standards. We should remember him and make sure we don't repeat the mistake instead of living in a dream world where we can rewrite history. Can I wipe away the effects that 19th century colonialisation and exploitation still have on the people of Africa by a half-hearted "we are weeeeally sowwy for what we done"?
23. 2012-02-08 07:52  
As for gays "abstracting it all away" first of all I think talking about poor Turing is more abstract than talking about the specific case of the plight of Ugandan gays (who are ALIVE). I don't believe TommyUK was "abstracting" at all. Emotions AGAIN are what caused some people to misunderstand or misinterpret his words, just reading a couple of words and then making assumpions.

Emotions are almost always the culprit when an injustice has been done or when a hate-crime, whether personal or national, has been commited. Emotions in a legal system are not only dangerous, they are the MOST DANGEROUS ememy of a fair system, and mass-emotion on a national scale lead us to fascism, cultish behaviour, sheep-mentality, nationalism, chaos, racism and homophobia. Emotions and personal beliefs actually resulted in the stupid homophobic laws in the first place.

Lastly, just because Britain is doing *relatively* well compared to both the past and to many (but not all) other countries it doesn't mean that Britain is perfect. Nobody has said "nothing's wrong here", you are falling victim to the classical logical fallacy known as "false dichotomy" also known as "black and white thinking". Just because someone says that something about Britain is good, it doesn't mean that nothing is wrong...

In any case, the way to improve Britain isn't by issuing a useless pardon to a person who died under a different regime, (the government has repealed that law so it's done its job there) it is by honouring his memory by standing for petitions and legislation that actually will change the lives of millions of people who are alive now and can benefit from more acceptance.
24. 2012-02-08 09:12  
i just think we're on the way to NAZI GERMANY.

(...whoops, fell afoul of Godwin's Law. Damn.)
25. 2012-02-08 13:39  
i supposed it wont be long before a movie director make a movie about this guy and tell his story to the world.

perhaps global pressures on the UK goverment will be more effective in granting him a posthumous pardon.

26. 2012-02-08 15:33  
SexyTenga, I don't think any amount of pressure will change anything. Only 3 posthumous pardons have ever been issued in Britain and they are only for people who were sentenced to death, and later found to have been innocent.

Turing was not executed, and he has not been found innocent of what was considered a crime at the time. As bigotted as that law was, pardoning every person who broke a law that was then overturned would be impractical. The Prime Minister has issued a statement of regret concerning the treatment of Turing and that is as far as the law can go. We cannot turn back time. We can only look to the present and the future
27. 2012-02-08 18:24  
@25, there already is a play and movie, starring Derek Jacobi, called Breaking The Code.

@26, I researched this, and the UK has already through the Protection of Freedom Act deleted from criminal databases convictions for consensual gay sex, in other words convictions when gay sex was illegal, or the age of consent was different, are deleted and the record expunged. Similar in effect to a pardon. Presumably you have to still be alive though.
28. 2012-02-08 19:17  
Koitsu, the law needs to be passionate... that's what's wrong with it... the law needs to be full of emotion and the human spirit... and the cliche that you can't turn back time... well, you can re-make society and law... that's exactly what I advocate... and it is the space I operate in every day... the world is a possibility and not a strait-jacket...

As for Penstate72... go back and read Henry David Thoreau... civil disobedience ... this is the knee-jerk, sissy reaction, "Oh my my, it must be anarchy." Hell, no. Perhaps the conservatives in this discussion had better go rediscover what democracy is... it's a conversation, not a set in stone thing... and the conversation happens today, not yesterday... I find Turing "Had never been guilty." Anyone care to establish that law with me and shout it out?
Comment #29 was deleted by its author on 2012-02-08 19:19
30. 2012-02-08 19:22  
I concur too, that the result of the posthumous pardon is insignificant. After all, Turing is no longer around, and the legal system is indeed better now than it was during the warring times. I'm not in the best position to compare it on year-on-year basis though, since i'm not native of Britain.

Besides, I believe only Turing is in the legal position to appeal, if he's still alive. Also, it's only a mere formality, which I felt that an official apology is already appropriate. Finally, constructive reforms have been taken to avoid passing the same kind of judgement in future.

If people had to live in the past, I think we would still be warring now, perhaps killing a half a million of Germans and Japaneses, over the crime of a few ambitious mad men leading these countries decades ago.
31. 2012-02-08 20:37  
If we petition for pardon of Alan Turing, why not also for the thousands who were similarly convicted then? Are they not important because they didn't help invent the computer? I think there is a case for honouring the memory of EVERYONE who has ever been convicted as guilty for a crime we now no longer consider as one. From Jesus to Oscar Wilde to Mahsuri. We do that by making sure the law is free from manipulations, abuse and discrimination. But laws alone won't change minds and hearts. So there will always be other work to be done. Let's do those work.
32. 2012-02-08 21:42  
Well said Amazingly. To Willforyou, I don't see how a "passionate" legal system serves society. Reason free from passion is the all-important foundation of the system. My roommate is going through a court-case now, suing his former employer in Hong Kong. He wrote many statements against his boss filled with his own personal sentiment, all corrected by his lawyer who advised him " the court will not look kindly on your personal feelings " - and quite right! What does the law need to know about everyone's personal feelings? Passion and feelings are relative, they differ from person to person - how can we possibly construct a legal system based on that?

As for whoever it was that made the statement that I believe "What is law is right" - how ridiculous, haha. Where on earth did you get that from? Mind you - I predicted one or two overly-zealous people would go for my jugular on that one. I don't personally see how this issue relates to apartheid, or Nazi Germany. Think though, how was it those systems even came about? One man or one group's personal feelings/prejudices taking over the legal system and using it to their own end.
33. 2012-02-09 07:37  
Fascist (or communist) States do have "dispassionate" laws. Democratic States do have laws based on perceived morality rather than rationale. There are laws that are fair and laws that are unfair. I wish some people can see that.

Pardoning Turing, who has been dead for tens of years, would have been symbolic but would have been a statement. Not pardoning him is another statement.

Stiff upper lip!
34. 2012-02-13 18:32  
Oh Amazingly, was Jesus gay too?!
35. 2012-02-25 10:53  
Sad story i think this worl has kill many good people just for been gay. thanks to the gay organizations we have some rights now.
36. 2012-02-25 12:47  
Who gives a flying f*uk abt the House of Lords (such a pompous-ass sounding title btw LOL) ...Alan Turing is MY hero!!!! :D
37. 2012-03-11 01:14  
Law is ALMOST NEVER just (although it is always self-righteous) in virtually all countries of the world, and the list from "miscegenation ban" to laws endorsing enslavement of human beings by other human beings to Nuremberg laws to laws establishing Auschwitz, Mauthausen, jasenovac death camps...

Laws are a system of oppression and the only solution is to crush all institutions of the so called "state" power -- in all countries (states if you will) od the world SIMULTANEOUSLY.

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