The government has refused to grant a pardon for homosexuality convictions to the wartime codebreaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing.
A parliamentary motion noted the vital contribution made by Turing to Britain’s war effort by inventing the machine that tackled the problem of solving the German Enigma naval code, which became the subject of books and a film.
Over 21,000 people signed an e-petition on the 10 Downing Street website calling for Alan Turing to be pardoned, which had led to the parliamentary motion. The petition acknowledged the huge and unnecessary suffering that he and many other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people had to endure while homosexuality was still considered a criminal offence.
Announcing that the request for a pardon had been rejected by the government, the Justice Minister Lord McNally said that ‘a posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence’.
McNally did however concede that governments must ‘ensure instead that we never again return to those times’.
‘The law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place rather than trying to alter the historical context’ he added.
Turing received a criminal conviction for having a sexual relationship with another man in 1952, fifteen years before sexual acts between men were decriminalised in England and Wales. Like many other men found guilty of sexual acts with other other men at the time, he was forced to take oestrogen therapy or sent to prison if he did not comply.
Turing committed suicide on 8 June 1954, aged 41.
In 2009 former Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a posthumous apology to Mr Turing, at the encouragement of his wife, Sarah. He called the treatment that Turing had received ‘appalling’.
Turing’s work in the 1930s and 1940s at the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) at Bletchley Park, ensured that he came to be considered the founder of modern computer science and artificial intelligence. Yet as his colleague at Bletchley, Hugh Alexander, remarked, ‘the magnitude of Turing’s contribution was never fully realized by the outside world’.