Feeds

Brown apologises for 'appalling' treatment of Turing

Petition precipitates posthumous penitence

High performance access to file storage

The Prime Minister has apologised for the "appalling" persecution of World War II code breaker Alan Turing.

Gordon Brown's words of contrition came in response to a petition on the No 10 website calling for a posthumous government apology to the wartime hero and computing pioneer. The petition has received thousands of signatures in recent weeks, gathering the support of celebrities including writer Ian McEwan and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

Turning was convicted of "gross indecency" in 1952 after his relationship with a young man became public and forced to agree to experimental chemical castration in order to avoid prison. He was denied clearance to work on classified work for GCHQ after the conviction. Prevented from exercising his formidable intellect, Turing fell into depression and committed suicide two years later in 1954, aged just 41.

Alongside his work leading a team of code-breakers at Bletchley Park during WWII, Turing was instrumental in designing the Bombe that automated the process of decrypting messages encoded using the German Enigma machines. He laid the foundations of modern computer science, by helping to design the Manchester Mark 1, and by establishing a theoretical basis for artificial intelligence.

In a statement, the Prime Minister acknowledged Turing's contribution to the war effort and his subsequent mistreatment.

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely.

In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ - in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence - and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison - was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.

Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly.

Brown's statement concludes with: "So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better."

Proud to say sorry for an overdue apology? What does that even mean? The cynical may see Brown's apology as an attempt to shore up support among the gay community for an unpopular government. Still, whatever Brown's motives, the apology is welcome.

Turing's three nieces said they were "delighted" and "very glad" at the prime minister's recognition of the injustice against their uncle, the BBC reports.

John Graham-Cumming, the British computer scientist who started the campaign, also asked the Queen to give Turing a posthumous knighthood, thanked those who participated in a post on Twitter. "Thank you to everyone who helped make the Alan Turing apology happen. Will blog later; currently bed ridden with the flu," he writes.

Bletchley Park, where Turing did much of his work, is a national institution desperately short of funds needed for urgent repairs. The momentum achieved by Graham-Cumming's campaign might usefully be applied to calling for additional funds.

The call for an apology was the fourth most popular e-petition on the Downing Street website, at number one since April. A petition calling from Gordon Brown's resignation currently bears twice as many signatories. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.