WWII codebreaker Alan Turing gets royal pardon for gay conviction

LONDON Tue Dec 24, 2013 12:42am GMT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Mathematician Alan Turing, who helped Britain win World War Two by cracking Nazi Germany's "unbreakable" Enigma code, was granted a rare royal pardon on Tuesday for a criminal conviction for homosexuality that led to his suicide.

Turing's electromechanical machine, a forerunner of modern computers, unravelled the code used by German U-boats in the Atlantic. His work at Bletchley Park, Britain's wartime codebreaking centre, was credited with shortening the war.

However, he was stripped of his job and chemically castrated with injections of female hormones after being convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for having sex with a man. Homosexual sex was illegal in Britain until 1967.

Turing killed himself in 1954, aged 41, with cyanide.

Justice Minister Chris Grayling said the pardon from the Queen would come into effect immediately and was a fitting tribute to "an exceptional man with a brilliant mind".

"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," Grayling said in a statement.

"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conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed," he said.

Only four royal pardons had been granted since the end of World War Two, a spokeswoman for Grayling said.

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking and 10 other eminent scientists had campaigned for years for "one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the modern era" to be pardoned.

One of those scientists, Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, said, "The persecution of this great British scientist over his sexuality was tragic and I'm delighted that we can now focus solely on celebrating his legacy."

In 2009, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly apologised on behalf of the government for "the appalling way" Turing was treated but campaigners called for a full pardon.

In May 2012, a private member's bill was put before the House of Lords to grant Turing a statutory pardon and in July it gained government support.

Cameron on Tuesday described Turing as "a remarkable man who played a key role in saving this country in World War Two".

"His action saved countless lives. He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the father of modern computing," Cameron said in a statement.

The work at Bletchley Park, a secluded country house north of London, only became public knowledge in the 1970s when its role in the war and that played by Turing was revealed.

The cryptographers who worked there are credited with helping to shorten World War Two by up to two years and they deciphered around 3,000 German military messages a day.

Turing's team cracked the Enigma code, which the Germans regarded as unbreakable, as well as designing and developing Colossus, one of the first programmable computers.

But after the war, Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered the Colossus computers and 200 "Turing bombe" machines be destroyed to keep them secret from the Soviet Union.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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Comments (2)
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
All of little use to Marine A.

Reuters also makes the classic mistake of suggesting that Britain won the ‘War’ when at best it could be said Britain ‘survived’ the ‘War’. (Britain losing both her Empire and global position, being compounded by becoming a bankrupt nation to the ruthless American debt collector)

The German War machine was essentially stopped in its tracks upon the Eastern Front and thrown back to Berlin by the Red Army with its ‘T’ series of tanks.

Dec 24, 2013 12:46pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
If Santa had been driving any tank on Christmas Eve 1941, it would have surely been one of these… (Not even the British weather would have defeated it!)German tank generals von Kleist and Guderian called it “the deadliest tank in the world.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-34-85#T-34-85

Dec 24, 2013 6:59pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
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