Could Alan Turing be pardoned before the end of the Centenary?


  • Author: Statistics Views
  • Date: 20 December 2012
  • Copyright: Photograph appears courtesy of Wikipedia.

Since a letter calling for the posthumous pardon of mathematician Alan Turing was published in the Daily Telegraph’s edition of 14th December, further leading scientists have been lending their names to the appeal that was written by Professor Stephen Hawking, amongst others and the legalities are being seriously examined.

thumbnail image: Could Alan Turing be pardoned before the end of the Centenary?

In the letter, the scientists appeal, ‘We urge the Prime Minister formally to forgive this British hero, to whom we owe so much as a nation, and whose pioneering contribution to computer sciences remains relevant even today. To those who seek to block attempts to secure a pardon with the argument that this would set a precedent, we would answer that Turing’s achievements are sui generis. It is time his reputation is unblemished’ (Daily Telegraph, 14th December 2012).

Alan Turing led the code-breakers at Bletchley Park during World War II to break the codes of the Enigma machines. Without his work, the War would have undoubtedly lasted longer and historians have even suggested that its conclusion could have been a nuclear bomb being dropped on Berlin as well as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Turing was never acknowledged in his lifetime for his contribution as the work carried out at Bletchley Park was kept secret until 1974. Turing was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 after admitting to a relationship with another man. He committed suicide two years later.

Alex Bailin, a former mathematician, now barrister at Matrix Chambers and John Halford, a partner at Bindmans LLP, both whom specialise in human rights law, have today written an article for the Guardian detailing the legal specifics that would need to happen. They also allude to section 96 of the Protection of Freedom Act 2012 which grants that the secretary of state can give pardons and section 92 acknowledges that old laws that were repressive can be disregarded, meaning that Lord McNally’s statement in February that Turing cannot be pardoned as he was convicted according to the law at the time does not have any backing.

Let’s see if the Prime Minsister is feeling generous this Christmas. In the meantime, Statistics Views will be paying a final tribute to Turing at the end of the year with an interview with Enigma Project Officer Dr James Grime and a video demonstration of a surviving Enigma machine.

For more resources celebrating the Alan Turing Year, please visit here.

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