Opinion: Let’s get case for Alan Turing pardon debated in Parliament

Today, I ask you as fellow Liberal Democrats to sign the Grant Alan Turing a Pardon petition on the number 10 website.

The petition reads:

“We ask the HM Government to grant a pardon to Alan Turing for the conviction of ‘gross indecency’. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ with another man and was forced to undergo so-called ‘organo-therapy’ – chemical castration. Two years later, he killed himself with cyanide, aged just 41. Alan Turing was driven to a terrible despair and early death by the nation he’d done so much to save. This remains a shame on the UK government and UK history. A pardon can go to some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.”

I was inspired to start the petition when the Channel  4 programme – Britain’s Greatest Codebreaker was screened in November 2011.  This brought a man I consider a true British hero back to the attention of the public.   Like Turing, I am a computer scientist, a resident of Manchester and a gay man.

This petition is not just about the monstrous way that a great computer scientist whose genius helped win the Second World War for the allies was treated.  This deserves a pardon alone!  It is also about all the gay men, not as well known as Alan Turing, who had the misfortune to fall foul of the law and were treated the same way.

What happened to gay men in the UK in the name of British Law is just as horrific as anything repugnant overseas regimes have perpetrated on their own citizens in the past.  Something that stains our history deserves correction and acts as a lesson to the UK never to commit such horrors again in the name of the British law to any citizen whatever their beliefs, creed, colour or sexual persuasion.

Therefore, I ask the UK government via this petition to not just pardon Alan Turing but pardon all gay men who were convicted of gross indecency and were then chemically castrated.

A similar petition in 2009 by John Graham-Cummings, a British computer scientist called for an apology to the remaining members of Alan Turing’s family.  This petition gained an apology from Gordon Brown in September 2009.   But an apology is not the same as a pardon, especially a pardon to all citizens treated in the same manner as Turing.

It’s time to go further, face up to the horrors that this country perpetrated upon its own citizens and pardon all gay men convicted of gross indecency who were then cruelly chemically castrated.


The petition at the time of writing is approaching 20,000 signatures.  Should the petition reach 100,000 signatures the matter of pardoning all gay men and correcting this stain on our history would be debated in parliament.  I urge you to sign this petition and pass the message to all of your friends and family asking them to sign it and pass on the message keeping up the momentum towards the 100,000 signature mark.

*William Jones is  lead campaigner in Sale (Priory Ward) in the Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council and Chair of Wythenshawe and Sale East Liberal Democrat Constituency Party.


* William Jones is the lead campaigner in Sale (Priory Ward) of the Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council, Chair of Trafford Lib Democrat Forum and Chair of Wythenshawe and Sale East Liberal Democrat Constituency Party

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  • It is long overdue that this genius is granted a pardon

  • William Jones 4th Jan '12 - 9:55pm

    Martjin I am aware John Graham-Cumming does not support this petition and indeed thinks it is a mistake petition. I am not of the same opinion.

    His petition asked for an apology. To the Brown governments credit it provided an apology.

    I don’t believe that went far enough.

    This petition calls for an official pardon and I see it as a vehicle for pardoning other gay men not as famous as Alan Turing who were subjected to similar, if not worse horrors. It is a period of history that the UK should never repeat but has made the same mistake even recently towards other minorities.

  • Isn’t John’s point that there’s already a bill in progress through parliament that will retrospectively annul any convictions for gross indecency of that type?

    It would be nice if there was something ceremonial to go with it but, as you and he point out, why just single out Alan Turing and not all the other people who fell foul of that particular law?

  • Richard Swales 5th Jan '12 - 2:38pm

    I can’t help feeling that there is something of the Susan Boyle about the Turing-only pardon. It’s like, “We have discovered you have/had a special talent and therefore we are sorry that we were nasty to you, but we are not actually going to change in future except in terms of you personally.”

  • Richard Swales 5th Jan '12 - 2:41pm

    – in other words the pardon shouldn’t be contingent on the special talent.

  • William Jones 5th Jan '12 - 9:45pm

    Barry, thanks for the kind words. Do you think John and myself could team up to promote this petition further?

  • The real problem with Alan Turing as a ‘poster-boy’ for gay rights is that he was (reportedly) attracted to boys whose age would render them firmly out-of-bounds even by today’s standards. Maybe better to think first about how acceptable that kind of thing is, before starting any fresh campaigns on the basis of his genius.

  • William Jones 8th Jan '12 - 11:55am

    Chris, this is about pardoning all of those (gay, bisexual and transgender) who where subjected to chemical castration in the name of HM Government during that time.

    I see no problem whatsoever with using Alan Turing as the ‘poster boy’ for the campaign. Any wrong that he did perpetrate or any other person could have been handled in a less barbaric manner. Chemical castration was a monstrous punishment.

    I hope the implication isn’t that chemical castration was a just and proportionate punishment that requires no pardon if someone is ‘reportedly’ had sex with a minor. It is reported during this time that chemical castration for any sexual act that deviated from hetro-sexual sex was a standard punishment. This is what I have issue with.

  • William

    For the avoidance of doubt, my comment doesn’t “imply” anything beyond what it says. Nor was Turing’s conviction anything to do with having sex with a minor – the other man was 19.

    While I’m about it, he wasn’t “forced” to undergo chemical castration – he chose that option rather than a custodial sentence. Not that I’m implying that either option was a just and proportionate punishment for the act he was convicted for – before you suggest that.

  • William Jones 8th Jan '12 - 6:24pm

    Chris, ‘even by today’s standards’ someone who is 19 is a consenting adult. It underlines the point if two consenting adults decided to have sex there should have been no wrong doing hence no arrest.

    I apologise for any assumptions but this sentence prompted my response “Maybe better to think first about how acceptable that kind of thing is, before starting any fresh campaigns on the basis of his genius.”. I’d be interested to know what you meant as it is open to interpretation.

  • William

    As I said, I was referring to his reported involvement with other boys, who would be under-age even as the law stands now.

    What I’m saying is that – in view of that – it may not be either appropriate or wise to present the man as some kind of super-human “hero,” or to present him as a representative of the gay community as a whole.

  • Gareth Webb 31st Jan '12 - 3:50am

    I’m interested to know if John Hemming MP has been contacted directly about this yet (given that he’s on the Backbench Business Committee). As a former physicist and a Lib Dem he strikes me as the most sympathetic ear. I’ve no idea how such lobbying is usually done, but I’d hope he is being reminded of the cause at every 20k milestone.

    I’d also like to know what other promotional initiatives are being pursued in the mean time. What the strategy is. And what I can do to help.

    Warm regards, GW

  • William Jones 31st Jan '12 - 10:37pm

    John Leech MP for Withington has submitted an early day motion supporting this petition. This is great news!

  • William Jones 7th Feb '12 - 10:38pm

    While Lord McNally may have given an initial government response of no to a pardon. This is the beginning next stage of the battle for a pardon. Nearly 2000 extra signatures have been added today with the number of signatures now approaching 25000 after the petition was featured in the Guardian.

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