By SONJA DECHIAN
The UK’s House of Lords has dismissed calls to pardon computer pioneer Alan Turing of a conviction for homosexuality in the 1950s. Turing, known as both the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, mechanised the decoding process of the German’s Enigma code during World War II.
After his arrest for ‘gross indecency,’ Turing was given a choice between chemical castration and prison, and he chose the former. His security clearances were revoked, effectively ending his career. Turing committed suicide in 1954, two years after his conviction.
2012 marks the centenary of Turing’s birth, and an online petition calling for an official pardon attracted 23,000 signatures.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Justice Minister Lord McNall said, ‘It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd – particularly poignant given his outstanding contribution to the war effort. However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place and, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times.’
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered an apology in 2009, saying, ‘on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.’
John-Graham Cumming, the man behind the original petition calling for an apology, has argued a pardon for Turing alone would be unjust. ‘There were many, many others. And there are men alive today living in Britain with a criminal record because of offenses committed during the time the laws were in force. I could get behind a petition for a pardon for all those people, especially since living people are still hurt by that law, but not just for Turing. Pardoning him doesn’t help the living.’