BHA welcomes public support for Alan Turing apology

The BHA has today welcomed growing public support for a posthumous public apology to be made to mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing.

The day after World War II began, Turing reported to Bletchley Park and began to devise ingenious new ways of breaking German ciphers, including the Enigma machine codes, providing strategic intelligence widely credited with being pivotal in the course of the war. His concept of the “Turing machine” today underlies all computer science.

In 1952 Turing admitted having a sexual relationship with another man, then a crime. He was convicted of “gross indecency” under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, the very same law under which Oscar Wilde was convicted and sentenced to hard labour in 1895.

Given a choice between imprisonment and undergoing an experimental “treatment” for his sexuality, Turing chose the latter. He was given oestrogen injections for a year in order to chemically castrate him, resulting in gynecomastia and numerous other side-effects. His career in cryptography – by this time he was working at GCHQ in Gloucestershire – came to a premature end as he was stripped of security clearances. The chemical treatments and loss of occupation lead to spiralling mental health problems and suicide.

A petition calling for a posthumous public apology, backed by BHA Distinguished Supporters Ian McEwan and Richard Dawkins, has received thousands of signatures.

Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs, said, “Despite monumental academic recognition, and an OBE for his secret work in 1945, the British government has never apologised for the inexcusable treatment of this great British hero.

“I think the popularity of this petition, and the overwhelmingly positive response to it on BBC message boards and in the blogosphere, is because people recognise and empathise so strongly with the moral force of the argument. Turing’s persecution was de-humanising and morally repugnant, and the premature death of such a productive scientific mind represents a self-inflicted wound on the nation.

“We support this petition because it’s a case of huge symbolic significance. But really, all people unfairly convicted of ‘gross indecency’ and similar supposed crimes prior to 1969 should be pardoned. This would send a message to all those countries where homosexuality is still a crime and where the human rights of gay people are routinely abused.”

Notes

You can sign the petition at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/turing/

For further comment contact Andrew Copson on 020 7079 3584 or 07534 248 596.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief. It is the largest organisation in the UK working for a secular state.