A Pardon For Alan Turing
I beg your pardon
Elizabeth Mary, Queen Elizabeth II, is the Queen of the United Kingdom and of the other Commonwealth realms. She has just today granted Alan Turing a posthumous royal pardon under the rule of “royal prerogative of mercy.”
Today Ken and I want to add our thoughts to this event.
Finally. Simply put—its about time. It is hard to believe that Turing was treated so horribly after his brilliant work. It is hard to believe that anyone, brilliant or not, was treated this way in 1952.
Here is a quote on the story by Jamie Grierson, Press Association Home Affairs Correspondent:
Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing has been given a posthumous royal pardon for a 61-year-old conviction for homosexual activity. Dr Turing, who was pivotal in breaking the Enigma code, arguably shortening the Second World War by at least two years, was chemically castrated following his conviction in 1952.
His conviction for “gross indecency” led to the removal of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) where he had continued to work following service at Bletchley Park during the war.
Dr. Turing, who died aged 41 in 1954 and is often described as the father of modern computing, has been granted a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen following a request from Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. “Dr Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind,” Mr Grayling said.
“His brilliance was put into practice at Bletchley Park during the Second World War where he was pivotal to breaking the Enigma code, helping to end the war and save thousands of lives.
“His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed.
“Dr Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.”
Dr Turing died of cyanide poisoning and an inquest recorded a verdict of suicide, although his mother and others maintained his death was accidental.
There has been a long campaign to clear the mathematician’s name, including a well-supported e- petition and private member’s bill, along with support from leading scientists such as Sir Stephen Hawking.
The pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy will come into effect today. The Justice Secretary has the power to ask the Queen to grant a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, for civilians convicted in England and Wales.
A pardon is only normally granted when the person is innocent of the offence and where a request has been made by someone with a vested interest such as a family member. But on this occasion a pardon has been issued without either requirement being met.
In September 2009, then-prime minister Gordon Brown apologised to Dr Turing for prosecuting him as a homosexual after a petition calling for such a move.
An e-petiton—titled “Grant a pardon to Alan Turing”—received 37,404 signatures when it closed in November last year. The request was declined by Lord McNally on the grounds that Dr Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence.
This is a historic event, coming just before the 60th anniversary of Alan Turing’s passing in Manchester on June 7th, 1954. The historic injustice can never be undone, but it is wonderful that the Government has officially restored Turing’s reputation, and removed the distraction from his amazing scientific and personal achievements.
Note, some spelling is British: “offence” for “offense.”
In court one says “exception” when one disagrees with a statement, to put the disagreement on the record. Ken and I say exception. The personal life of Turing never, in our opinion, distracted from his great achievements. Never.
Also we find curious the statement that these pardons are normally granted only to those who are innocent. This strikes as another referential self-contradiction, for then how is it a “pardon”? Is presumption of innocence, rather than proof of innocence, enough? Finally, we must add that the Queen and Turing have been linked for over sixty years: She ascended to the throne on February 6, 1952; and Turing’s trial started on March 31, 1952.
In any event, Turing has some colorful company in the remarkably short list of those who have received royal pardons:
- Blackbeard the pirate, Edward Teach.
- Viscount Bolingbroke, who supported the Scottish rebellion in 1715, and whose writings influenced John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the American public in general.
- Uziel Gal, who designed the Uzi machine gun—we note also that Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47, just passed away yesterday.
- Peter Heywood, of the “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
- Henry Moore Smith, a 19th century escape artist.
There is an economist on the list, John Law, and now it has been augmented by a mathematician and computer scientist both. This is progress.
What does this say about progress by society on the whole? In this respect, is the action enough?