Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II this week granted a Royal pardon for internationally acclaimed British codebreaker and computer scientist Alan Turing, who took his own life in 1954 after being convicted two years earlier of having consensual sex with a 19-year-old male.
The pardon came more than a decade after gay activists and straight allies lobbied the British government for a posthumous pardon for Turing, saying his conviction on a charge of “gross indecency” was an injustice even though gay sex was considered a crime at the time under British law.
“Alan Turing was a remarkable man who played a key role in saving this country in World War II by cracking the German Enigma code,” The Telegraph newspaper quoted British Prime Minister David Cameron as saying.
“His action saved countless lives. He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to the as father of modern computing,” the newspaper quoted Cameron a saying.
Cameron was referring to Turning’s groundbreaking work for one of Britain’s intelligence agencies during World War II in which he applied his own research on information processing – considered a forerunner to modern computer science — to devise a means of breaking the code used by German submarines to attack and sink British ships.
Turning, who continued his research after the war, is widely considered by computer experts to have developed the foundation for high tech devices such as smart phones.
“He made a huge impact on the world he lived in and left a legacy for the world of today and tomorrow,” The Telegraph quoted Iain Steward, a Conservative Party member of the British Parliament, as saying. “This Royal pardon is a just reward for a man who was stripped of his honor, his work, and the loyalty he showed his nation.
A British Broadcasting Company history report on Turing’s life says Turing was arrested, tried and convicted in 1952 on the homosexuality related charge. Other news reports from the British press say the arrest came after Turing called police to report that a 19-year-old male with whom he at one time had a relationship broke into his house.
The admission prompted police to file the gross indecency charge. Authorities later gave Turing a choice of imprisonment or hormonal treatment to eliminate his sexual drive that activists have called “chemical castration.” Turing chose the latter.
The conviction, among other things, resulted in Turing being stripped of his security clearance, preventing him from continuing his work on code breaking and related fields for one of his country’s top intelligence agencies.
He was found dead on June 7, 1954. An autopsy and toxicological tests showing he died of cyanide poisoning. A half-eaten apple was found next to his bed, according to the press reports.
A June 2012 BBC report says the apple wasn’t tested to determine if it was laced with cyanide, as had been speculated since the time of Turing’s death, and that it might be possible that the death was an accident. The BBC reported that Turing had been using cyanide for experiments he had been conducting at his home.
A spokesperson for the British Embassy in Washington said the Queen announced last December her intent to grant Turing the pardon. The spokesperson, James Harris, said the Queen put the pardon in place officially on Tuesday, Aug. 19.
“Now know ye that we, in consideration of circumstances humbly represented to us, are graciously pleased to grant our grace and mercy unto the said Alan Mathison Turing and grant him our free pardon posthumously in respect of the said convictions,” the pardon states.