Page last updated at 00:37 GMT, Saturday, 12 September 2009 01:37 UK

Gay injustice 'was widespread'

By Julian Joyce
BBC News

Alan Turing
Alan Turing was forced to take drugs or be sent to prison after his conviction

Gordon Brown may have apologised for the "appalling" way gay computer pioneer Alan Turing was treated, but some believe the prime minister should go further.

Many gay men were "treated" in the same way as Alan Turing - given powerful drugs or electric shocks to "cure" them of their homosexuality.

Turing - a wartime hero who helped break the Enigma code - killed himself in 1954.

His suicide has been blamed on a combination of depression brought on by the loss of his government job, and on unpleasant physical side effects induced by the drugs he was forced to take.

But the talented scientist was not the only victim of Britain's repressive anti-gay laws.

I would have thought a general apology to all those who suffered would be a good thing
Alison Braithwaite

In 1962, Army captain Billy Clegg-Hill died during medically-supervised "aversion therapy", prescribed by a judge following his arrest for homosexual offences.

Like Alan Turing, Mr Clegg-Hill was given the choice of prison or "therapy" conducted by doctors who believed homosexuality was a treatable disease.

Mr Clegg-Hill's sister, Alison Braithwaite, told the BBC: "Billy's death was covered up by the Army - at the time his death certificate said he died of natural causes."

It was only in 1996 a BBC documentary uncovered the real reason for his death.

General apology

It emerged the treatment, at the Netley military hospital in Hampshire, consisted of showing Mr Clegg-Hill pictures of naked men and then injecting him with the vomit-inducing drug apomorphine.

"The idea was to make him associate naked men with being sick. It was crude and totally ineffective," said Ms Braithwaite.

"Unfortunately, the doctors neglected to give him any fluids, and he died of a stroke brought on by dehydration."

She believes Gordon Brown should extend his apology to her brother and all the other gay men forced into "treatment" for their sexuality.

"This sort of treatment was routinely done, and I would have thought a general apology to all those who suffered would be a good thing.

"It was a terrible and unwarranted crime against people who were only expressing their sexuality in a way not harmful to anyone else."

"By apologising to everyone who suffered, Gordon Brown would acknowledge that wrong was done by the state, and it will not happen again."

But gay campaigner Peter Tatchell goes further: he wants an apology for the estimated 100,000 men prosecuted for homosexual offences during the last century.

He said: "It's wrong for the prime minister to just give apologies to celebrities and public figures.

"Unlike Turing, many thousands of ordinary gay and bisexual men were never given the option of hormone treatment as an alternative to jail. They were sent to prison and they need an apology too."

But not everyone agrees.

Ian Burford and Alex Cannell
Ian Burford (right) entered into a civil partnership with his partner in 2001

London actor Ian Burford, 76, lived with his long-term partner Alex Cannell in the 1960s, when gay sexual relationships were prohibited by law.

He said: "We were illegal. If we'd been caught and found guilty of homosexual acts we could have been sentenced to two years hard labour.

"So the result was, you couldn't make a fuss, or behave flamboyantly - you had to keep your head down.

"The biggest danger was if you resorted to doing anything in a public place, like toilets or cruising in parks.

"At the time, the police saw arresting gay men as an easy way of bumping up their figures.

"They would set out to catch gay men by posing as gays themselves, and then arrest anyone who responded."

Apology "unrealistic"

But Mr Burford does not think the prime minister should offer a blanket apology.

"It is unrealistic for Mr Brown to say sorry to every gay man that has ever been," he said.

"There are good reasons why the prime minister singled out Alan Turing.

"Not only did the police persecute him, but the government took away his job.

"And the medical establishment compounded the sin by making him take treatment that ultimately destroyed him."

It's a view shared by former Downing Street staffer Lance Price.

"I would say the prime minister apologised to Alan Turing specifically because picking out his particular case highlighted the problem in general.

"Turing did something very important for this country. Mr Brown is presumably aware of the sheer injustice of his case and wanted to be seen to do something to rectify it."

Gay campaigning group Stonewall has not called for a widespread apology from the prime minister.

"But we shouldn't forget that Alan Turing was just one of thousands of gay men criminalised for being in love," said spokesman Derek Munn.

Downing Street has not indicated whether Gordon Brown will heed Peter Tatchell's call for a formal apology.

But a spokeswoman said: "The prime minister said Alan Turing, and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws, were treated terribly."

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