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article imageAlan Turing receives posthumous 'homosexual' pardon from Queen

By Eileen Kersey     Dec 24, 2013 in World
London - Alan Turing was a brilliant British mathematician, acknowledged as a central figure in the development of computers, but for all his service to Britain his reputation was tarnished after a conviction on homosexuality charges. Finally he receives a pardon.
Turing was instrumental in developing a machine which could crack the "Enigma Code" used by the Germans during WWII. According to the New York Times he helped "develop the machines and algorithms that unscrambled the supposedly impenetrable Enigma code". This helped end the terrible war.
However Alan Turing was homosexual and, back then, that was criminal.
Homosexuality in the UK was classed as a criminal activity until the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised "homosexual acts in private between two men, both of whom had to have attained the age of 21".
Following a petty theft at his home Mr Turing ended up being investigated by police for homosexual activity. In 1952 Alan Turing was convicted of committing homosexual acts and his previous good war record was forgotten. In order to avoid a prison sentence Turing took Hobson's choice, meaning no choice at all, and underwent chemical castration.
There was more though to come, and Turing lost his security clearance, meaning that his once invaluable code-breaking work ended abruptly.
Two years later he died and the official cause of death was listed as suicide. In 2012 BBC News reported:
Turing expert Prof Jack Copeland has questioned the evidence that was presented at the 1954 inquest. He believes the evidence would not today be accepted as sufficient to establish a suicide verdict.
Indeed, he argues, Turing's death may equally probably have been an accident. What is well known and accepted is that Alan Turing died of cyanide poisoning.
His housekeeper famously found the 41-year-old mathematician dead in his bed, with a half-eaten apple on his bedside table.
There was little hard evidence of suicide but:
Nevertheless, at the inquest, the coroner, Mr JAK Ferns declared: "In a man of his type, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next." What he meant by "of his type" is unclear.
In recent years there have been moves to pardon Turing, posthumously of course. In 2009, British PM Gordon Brown issued a formal apology to Mr. Turing, calling his treatment “horrifying” and “utterly unfair,” but in 2012 David Cameron’s government denied him a pardon.
In December 2012 Digital Journal reported on a petition to pardon Turing, which was being led by the equally brilliant Stephen Hawking.
Now for whatever reason, election fever perhaps, he is pardoned and Cameron said in a statement: “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.’ ”
British Justice Minister, Chris Grayling, requested the pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, it was granted by the Queen and comes into force Christmas Eve, 2013. Mr Turing would perhaps laugh at the irony of a Queen's pardon, if he were able.
Chemical castration was used by many countries to suppress sexual urges, in some cases. Homosexuality was thought of as a form of mental illness only a few decades ago, in the UK. The castration used hormone treatments, which in some cases caused the men involved to grow breasts and experience a range of health problems.
For Alan Turing it was possibly worth it if he could continue in his role at Manchester University, which gave him access to one of the world's only computers at that time.
However, he paid a high price for being homosexual and 60 years late a posthumous pardon only goes a short way toward setting the record straight.
Professor Copeland told the BBC:
"Turing was hounded," adding: "Yet he remained cheerful and humorous."
"The thing is to tell the truth in so far as we know it, and not to speculate.
"In a way we have in modern times been recreating the narrative of Turing's life, and we have recreated him as an unhappy young man who committed suicide. But the evidence is not there.
"The exact circumstances of Turing's death will probably always be unclear," Prof Copeland concludes.
"Perhaps we should just shrug our shoulders, and focus on Turing's life and extraordinary work."
How he died is still not 100% clear but at least his criminal record is wiped clean, finally.
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