Alan Turing Must Be Pardoned Demands House Of Lords

REX Features

Alan Turing looks set to receive a pardon, after the government lent its support to a Bill that would overturn the wartime codebreaker's conviction for being gay.

Turing took his own life with cyanide in 1954 at the age of 41 - he had been sentenced to chemical castration for the crime of gross indecency.

The mathematician, one of the fathers of computer science, worked at the British government's Second World War code-breaking headquarters at Bletchley Park. He is best known for having cracked the messages sent by the German Enigma machines and is credited with saving the country from starvation.

On Friday peers demanded that Turing be given a pardon as they gave Lord Sharkey's Alan Turing (Statutory Pardon) Bill its second reading.

The Lib Dem peer told the House of Lords today that Turing was treated with "terrible cruelty" and insisted the country and government owed him a debt. "The government knows that Turing is a hero and a very great man, they acknowledge he was cruelly treated," he said.

Last year the government rejected demands that he be granted a pardon as he had not been wrongly convicted at the time, even if that law no longer existed.

"A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence," Lib Dem justice minister Lord McNally said.

However today Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a government whip, reversed the position. He told the Lords the coalition would support the Bill once it made its way to the Commons.

"When his country needed him he stepped forward and he played his part to ensure the democracy and the freedoms we all enjoy today," he said.

Baroness Trumpington, who worked at Bletchley Park during the War, told peers he was "exceptional" and that without him Britain would have "lost the war".

She said: "This is not about legal issues, but about recognising the debt this country owes to Alan Turing."

The calls for a pardon were even more poignant given the passage of the government's gay marriage legislation earlier this week.

A petition on the government's official site calling for Turing to be given a pardon currently has over 37,000 signatures.

Lord Quirk said Turing had been "hounded" and "ostracised" after the war for his sexuality. "The world owes everything to this young man," he said. "No one could remotely guess how much more we would have owed to him if he had become an old man."

And Lord Lea suggested that the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square should be handed over to a statue of Turing.

It is not unprecedented for posthumous pardons to be issued by the government - including 304 British soldiers executed during the First World War for desertion.

In 2009 Gordon Brown issued an apology to Turing on behalf of the government, describing the codebreaker's treatment as "horrifying".

"Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction," he said.

"Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to humankind … It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe's history and not Europe's present.

"So 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."

Homosexuality was made illegal in 1885 - following a parliamentary debate that lasted just four minutes and heard contributions from just four speakers. Lord Sharkey reminded peers today that "the only discussion was over the penalty to be imposed". Being gay was only decriminalised in 1967.

In that time 75,000 men were convicted for being gay - 16,000 of them are still alive. Under the provisions of the coalition's Protection of Freedoms Act, people in England and Wales convictions and cautions for consensual gay sex are able to have the offences removed from their criminal records.

But those no longer alive, like Turing, are of course not able to apply.