UK government announces Alan Turing is to be pardoned

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  • Author: Statistics Views
  • Date: 23 July 2013
  • Copyright: Image appears courtesy of Wikipedia

Alan Turing, the mathematician and Enigma codebreaker who took his own life two years after being convicted of gross indecency due to admitting a relationship with another man, is to be given a posthumous pardon.

thumbnail image: UK government announces Alan Turing is to be pardoned

The UK government indicated towards the end of last week that it is prepared to support a backbench bill that would pardon Turing, who was subjected to treatment after his conviction, also unknown as ‘chemical castration’. He 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.

On 14th December 2012, as Alan Turing Year - the year long celebration of lectures and events to mark the centenary of Turing's birth - drew to a close, a letter calling for the pardon of Turing was published in the Daily Telegraph, consisting of an appeal written by Professor Stephen Hawking, amongst others. Please click here to see our news item at the time.

In the letter, the scientists appealed, ‘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).

According to The Guardian, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey has campaigned for a pardon since the 1960s when he studied mathematics at Manchester University where his tutor was Robin Gandy, Turing's only doctoral student, who became a close friend and was the executor of his will.

Lady Trumpington who worked at Bletchley Park also lent her voice to support the campaign: "The block I worked in was devoted to German naval codes. Only once was I asked to deliver a paper to Alan Turing, so … I cannot claim that I knew him. However, I am certain that but for his work we would have lost the war through starvation."

After the announcement, Sharkey said: "The government know that Turing was a hero and a very great man. They acknowledge that he was cruelly treated. They must have seen the esteem in which he is held here and around the world."

Towards the end of last year, Statistics Views interviewed Enigma Project Officer Dr James Grime who gave a demonstration of a surviving Enigma machine.

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