Local BBC Sites

Page last updated at 13:25 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 14:25 UK
Should Alan Turing be pardoned?

The statue of Alan Turing in Sackville Gardens
A statue in Sackville Gardens is one of several local tributes to Alan Turing

Sit on a bench in Sackville Gardens and you may well be sharing it with Alan Turing, one of the twentieth century's greatest minds, who committed suicide after his career fell apart.

The reasons why his statue graces a seat in the Village and his life ended so tragically are one and the same - Alan Turing was gay.

Turing lived in a time when homosexuality between men was a criminal offence, which meant that in 1952, a decade after his heroic code-breaking work in World War Two, he was convicted of gross indecency for having sex with a man.

He escaped prison by agreeing to undergo experimental hormone therapy to reduce his sex drive, but the pain of his conviction and the professional humiliation that it brought (his security privileges were rescinded, so he could no longer work at the high echelons he had been) was too much.

It pushed him into a spiral of despair which led, two years later, to him taking his own life by eating a cyanide-laced apple at his Wilmslow home.

'Turing has not been recognised'

It is 55 years since that tragic end, but the issues around it still burn brightly for some.

John Graham-Cumming, a computer author and programmer himself, has launched a petition on the Number 10 website , calling for 'the Prime Minister to apologise for the prosecution of Alan Turing that led to his untimely death.'

Adding: 'An apology would recognise the tragic consequences of prejudice that ended this man's life and career.'

He says that he set up the petition simply because he feels that "Turing has not been recognised for his work, nor have we recognised the fact that we had lost someone special at the young age of 41."

Alan Turing remembered
There are several tributes to Alan Turing in and around Manchester including:
Bench and statue in Sackville Gardens
University of Manchester building on Upper Brook Street
Blue plaque on his former Wilmslow home
Renamed section of A6010 between Ashton Old Road and Hulme Hall Lane (alongside Sportcity)

"This campaign is about finding justice for Alan Turing.

"We did treat him in an appalling fashion and a pardon by the British Government would go a long way to getting his name into the public domain for the right reasons - for his computer work and his work during the war."

John doesn't believe that the Government will comply with his request, regardless of how many sign the petition, but he remains positive, suggesting there are other ways to change how Truing is perceived.

"While I don't think will happen, I think the best thing would be to get funding set up in his name at Bletchley Park [where Turing served during WWII]."

Should Alan Turing be pardoned?

Is it right to quash the conviction and pardon Alan Turing or should his prosecution be allowed to stand as it was lawful at the time?

Your comments

He should definitely be pardoned! How appalling and how ignorant of people living in the 20th century to think they could 'cure' a homosexual by giving them hormones. These people effectively murdered a wonderfully clever person.
Cath Smith, Manchester

Give him a pardon - he won the bloody war, didn't he!
Kevin Murphy, Prestwich

We need to remember that at the time, what happened was according to the law, and it is only in hindsight that we can say that those actions were deplorable. Give him a pardon, so that not only he can rest in peace, but also that his family can move on and remember him for the rightful hero he was to the city.
Railton Hirst, Horwich

A man must not be judged according to his sexuality but according to his noble deeds.
Will Peters, Kent

Surely everyone who was convicted of his 'crime' should be pardoned. An apology by this government though seems pointless, what are they apologising for they didn't do anything.
Krycek, Manchester

Absolutely he should be pardoned! We live in society where there is more acceptance and at the end of the day if they can name a major thoroughfare after him, then I'm sure they can pardon his name and accept him for who and what he was.
Paul Soars, Burnage

I don't think his memory should be tainted because of an outdated law.
F Seals, Chadderton

He should be recognised for brilliant brain he had and credited with his war-time achievements.
Jean Loftus, Widnes

He should definitely be pardoned. Get the petition to Manchester's Pride Weekend and see how many other people agree.
Kath Allan, Wigan

All Mancunians should know of his great work and not his so called crime and subsequent 'suicide'.
Cathy Heaney, Beswick

Of course I think he should be pardoned, but why just him? There must have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of men persecuted by the law for homosexuality. I'm sure an apology for ALL gay prosecutions in the 20th century would be very much welcomed by all decent people.
Keith Smith, London

How abominably was this man treated! We can never make amends.
Jennie, Surbiton

Of course he should be pardoned, along with the poor souls who tried to commit suicide and failed and were then prosecuted, what a soulless society we once were.
Alan Barnard, Essex

He deserves a pardon for having committed no crime, an apology for his treatment, and a knighthood for his contribution to humanity. And I agree with Smith, many other, lesser people deserve pardons.
Mike Lynch, Amherst USA

If this man had been a member of parliament or high society there is no way he would have been prosecuted. Turing's genius was put to great use to fight for freedom how ironic his life ended in such a tragic way. He should be pardoned, it costs nothing but would show compassion and put a wrong to right as far as it is possible.
Alan Powell, Bolton

As an Irish gay man who moved to Manchester, I very quickly became aware of the life and death of Alan Turing and I do not hesitate in calling for the immediate pardoning of this great gay man, who gave so much to Manchester and to this country - I also support the same immediate pardoning of all other gay people under these horrible anti-gay laws, including Oscar Wilde and countless other gay people who suffered so much to leave for us the freedoms that we as gay people now enjoy - we must never forget what all of them have done for us
Michael John Dennis, Harpurhey

This proves why education is necessary in society. Clearly his homosexuality never impaired his ability to almost singlehandedly defeat the Germans as a code-breaker during WWll. Of course he should be pardoned.
Helene Papageorge, New York

I find it incredibly sad and moving that he felt compelled to take his own life because of his homosexuality but an apology 50 plus years later is pointless and would serve no useful purpose. We should all just be thankful we live in the time we now do.
Paul Riley, Leigh

I never cease to be amazed how this country seems to treat some of its greatest heroes. Needless to say, the political will to correct the disgusting way Turing was treated will only be considered if it is seen as a vote winner! I find myself constantly questioning what sort of society do we live in?
Michael, Surbiton

No I don't believe he should be pardoned or rather I don't believe he should be singled out. Either all gay people who were convicted under those unfair laws should be pardoned or none of them should. By singling Turing out I feel we are saying that being different from the norm (whether that is because of your gender or sexuality or race) should be tolerated if you have something extraordinary to contribute to society, that it's OK to be different provided you're also exceptionally talented in some way. Publicise what happened to him by all means so that people can see how unfair the laws were, how cruel they were, but don't single him out to be pardoned.
Joe, Luton

It's about time we pardoned all the people who, like Alan, underwent 'therapy' or served prison sentences for their sexuality. Without Turing it's quite conceivable that we would not have won WWII.
Dave, Sheffield

There are those who would think an apology serves no point, time has passed, the man is dead, there's no known family who could benefit. Yet the spirit of a nation transcends those who happen to be the current custodians of the mind of that nation. We now live in a world where it's impossible to admit mistakes, to say sorry, for doing so opens the doors to litigation. An apology for Alan would let the whole world know that we know there are times when it's necessary to say sorry and give us all hope that one day all the mistakes we've made can be undone, and that finally we can sacrifice pride and simply be proud. The seeds of Alan's mind sit on every desk on every desk in every office in the world. So perhaps to we also need to say thank-you.
P Xavier Grey, Manchester

In the absence of guilt, pardon makes no sense; can't the conviction simply be quashed? It's those in the British Establishment who created and used evil laws to persecute men like Alan Turing, who stand in need of pardon.
Huw Thomas, Llandeilo, Wales

Just goes to prove what serving your country counts for, he should be pardoned and given a knighthood.
William Harman, Hythe

Don't ask stupid questions. Just because it was the law at the time does not mean it was not a stupid and ridiculously backwards and savage law. ANYONE convicted of homosexuality should have their convictions pardoned immediately.
Simon Stewart, Scotland

This whole business of apology/pardoning post factum puzzles me. The current government had nothing to do with the appalling treatment meted out to Alan Turing and others. His untimely death was an avoidable tragedy. In the world of computer science he is a towering figure - given his solution to the halting problem and his concept of the bare bones of what a computer is, which is universally known as Turing machine. We computer scientists (and others) all honour him unstintingly and that is in very truth a living apology.
Ted Swart, Kelowna, BC, Canada

Certainly he should be pardoned. I would go further and say he should be awarded a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize. His contribution to shortening WWII and helping to defeat Naziism has never been properly recognized. In causing his humiliation and suicide, the narrow minded bureaucrats did our country a great disservice and the UK lost its leadership in the development of the computer.
Freddie Pilditch, Wraysbury

It is only right and proper that Turing and many, many others like him, should be acknowledged as innocent of any crime.
Philip Vulliamy, Stockport

Of course this father of computer science who had the wit and dedication to apply his work to saving this country in a time of need should be honoured. The evolution of our society is to be commended but for today's government to apologise for deficiencies in our earlier lack of understanding would be hollow.
Geoff Morgan, Tonbridge

Alan Turing was a great asset to his country and look how his country repaid him. Yes, pardon him. Any loving is good!
Jim Morrison, Coventry

Whether or not Alan Turing receives an 'official' pardon, I think it is obvious that the public recognise the injustice and the debt we all owe him.
Dan Everett, Bedford

He should be given an official pardon, but asking our government to apologise is stupidity in the highest level. It wasn't our government, it wasn't any of the people in our government, most of our government weren't even born yet and it wasn't even their party. They didn't do anything, why should they apologise?
Michael Simpson, Leeds

I would only agree with a pardon if it was across the board for everyone who was wrongfully charged and prosecuted. Just because he was a great mind should not afford him a special dispensation that isn't made available to others who suffered unjustly. Yes, he was a great man and I was appalled when I first heard his story, but that should be kept separate from the issue. If a pardon is to be issued it should be a general and sweeping one, clearing the names of everyone convicted in a less enlightened time.
Andy, Leeds

Turing's great code-breaking achievements and the Turing Test have always been what I knew about him. The rest of it is news to me. Notwithstanding that, he was treated appallingly by our standards, as many others have also been.
Phil Wadham, Basingstoke

Thank you to everyone for your comments on this subject. The Prime Minister issued an apology for the "appalling" way Turing was treated on Friday 11 September.




SEE ALSO
PM apology after Turing petition
11 Sep 09 |  Technology
Thousands call for Turing apology
31 Aug 09 |  Technology

OTHER RELATED BBC LINKS


BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific