Grandfather of computing Alan Turing granted posthumous royal pardon

Dr Alan Turing, the mathematician who helped to crack the Enigma code during the second world war, has been granted a royal pardon 59 years after he took his own life. His crime? Homosexuality. In spite of his role in code cracking -- which is widely regarded as having helped to shorten the war -- he was convicted for engaging in homosexual activity, and underwent experimental chemical castration as "cure" and punishment in 1952. Two years later he killed himself aged just 41.

It was the illegality of homosexuality that meant Turing's relationship with a man led to a criminal record, and this in turn meant that he was no longer permitted to continue his work at GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters). The UK's justice secretary, Chris Grayling requested the pardon which was then granted under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. Grayling said:

"Dr Alan Turing was 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. 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conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed."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 pardon has not come completely out of the blue as there has been a long running campaign to clear Turing's name. Two years ago, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for the "appalling treatment" Turning has received and calls have been made for a pardon for some years. The campaign received the backing of names such as Professor Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. Pardons are usually only granted when it later transpires that someone convicted of a crime is in fact innocent. As Turning engaged in homosexual activity (or "gross indecency" as it was termed), he was, technically speaking, guilty.

While the pardon has been welcomed by many, for others it is not enough. Turing is just one of many people convicted under a law that does not exist anymore. His high-profile work led to a high-profile campaign to clear his name, but it does nothing for the less well-known people convicted of the same "crime". We can thank Turing not only for the work he did during the war, but also for paving the way for modern computing. This is not really the place for debate about the rights and wrongs of a 61 year old conviction, but Richard Dawkins makes good point on Twitter: "Overturn a conviction" sounds a lot better than "pardon". "Pardon" implies that #Turing did something wrong in the first place.

Anyway -- thanks Mr Turing.

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