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Celebs join call for official Turing apology

Fight for posthumous justice

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Celebrities including writer Ian McEwan and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins have signed a petition calling for a posthumous government apology to computing pioneer and wartime code-breaker Alan Turing.

A Downing Street petition calling for an apology for the "prosecution of Alan Turing that led to his untimely death" has attracted more than 17,000 signatures.

Turing was denied clearance to work on classified work for GCHQ after he admitted a homosexual relationship and was convicted of gross indecency in 1952. Forced to take an experimental chemical castration treatment to avoid prison, Turing spiralled into depression and committed suicide two years later in 1954, aged just 41.

After leading a team of code-breakers at Bletchley Park during WWII, helping to create the Bombe that automated the process of decrypting messages encoded using the German Enigma machines, Turing went on to lay the foundations for modern computer science. For example, he helped design the Manchester Mark 1, one of the first computers.

John Graham-Cumming, the British computer scientist who started the campaign, has also asked the Queen to give Turing a posthumous knighthood. Turing has no surviving family.

Graham-Cumming admits that a government apology is "unlikely", but said that anything that contributes to greater public recognition of Turing's work and that highlights the injustice he faced is worthwhile.

"The most important thing to me is that people hear about Alan Turing and realise his incredible impact on the modern world, and how terrible the impact of prejudice was on him," Graham-Cumming told the BBC.

British scientists such as Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton appear on the back of Bank of England notes, and we can't help thinking that Turing's contribution to defeating the Nazis and computing might be more properly marked by having his portrait appear on the back of a note next time they are redesigned. Such a move would also recognise the contribution of all at Bletchley Park to the war effort. ®

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