Alan Turing pardon: 'fitting tribute' or 'meaningless' gesture

Alan Turing

Royal pardon for Enigma codebreaker convicted over gay relationship is criticised by activists

LAST UPDATED AT 11:20 ON Tue 24 Dec 2013

THE decision to give a posthumous royal pardon to mathematician Alan Turing has been described as long overdue.

But a gay activist and a legal expert have questioned the worth of the pardon and asked why it has not been extended to thousands of other men convicted for homosexual activity in the era when it was still deemed an offence.
 
Turing is renowned as the leader of the team of intelligence officers at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire that cracked the German enigma code and hastened the end of World War Two, The Guardian says. He is also known as the father of modern computer science.

But Turing was gay in an era when homosexual activity was a crime. He took his own life in 1954, two years after he was convicted of gross indecency after admitting a sexual relationship with a man.

The conviction destroyed Turing’s life. He was given experimental chemical castration as a "treatment" and his security clearance was cancelled, ending his work at Bletchley Park.

Now, 59 years after his death, Turing has been granted a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen. The pardon follows a request from the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, who described it as a "fitting tribute to an exceptional man".

"Dr Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind, Grayling said in a statement. "His brilliance was put into practice at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, where he was pivotal to breaking the Enigma code, helping to end the war and save thousands of lives. His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed."

The Guardian points out that the pardon follows a "long campaign" to clear Turing’s name. In 2009, an "unequivocal apology" was issued to the mathematician by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Gay activist Peter Tatchell told the BBC’s Today programme that it’s wrong that other men convicted of homosexual activity are "not even given an apology".

The New Statesman’s legal correspondent, David Allen Green, agrees that Turing’s pardon does not address the fact that "many others suffered the same wrong".

Green adds that pardons are "curious things" from a legal perspective. "They are intended to aid the living rather than the dead," he writes. "This is because a pardon does not usually affect the validity of a conviction (the conviction will still stand) but it will alleviate its practical consequences: a defendant is normally relieved of any punishment."

The problem with posthumous pardons, argues Green, is that they are "practically - and legally - meaningless.  It is a gesture." · 

Disqus - noscript

Many years ago I lived in Evesham Worcestershire. Allegedly there was a gay circle who had arranged to meet in a public convenience. The police were aware of this and had stationed officers in the attic where a spy-hole had been bored. Allegedly the officers appeared just as the homosexuals were about to complete a circle! It was quite a scandal especially as some of them were prominent businessmen. I seem to remember that two of them hung themselves shortly afterwards as a result of the publicity that this witch hunt caused but no doubt it sold a lot of newspapers.

As they say in Yorkshire "There's nowt as qu*** as folk!" and this case certainly proves it. What most people would of course want to ask is "How have the police got time to investigate people's peccadilloes when there are burglars to catch?"

Have never heard of this guy until today when i read on the teletext that he received a pardon but that he had been chemically castrated and latterly committed suicide. This will be the work of the religious maniacs getting in tow with the politicians and highlights what democracy has actually meant in history past for some groups....i.e ZILCH. This story is as bad as burning witches and even the pardon makes me cringe as if a wrong has been put right...Is hasn't and never will, this is a truly shocking tale and for a government justice system to behave this way is totally shocking. Someone somewhere should be named for this brutality and the pardoners should just cluck off...sad sad story for this poor bloke..

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.