No 10 apologises for "appalling" treatment of Alan Turing

The government has apologised for the treatment of a famous computer scientist whose code-breaking exploits at Bletchley Park are considered an "outstanding contribution" to the war effort

In response to a petition, the prime minister has apologised for the "appalling" treatment of computer scientist and code-breaker Alan Turing, who was given experimental chemical castration for being gay. He committed suicide two years later, at the age of 41.

Gordon Brown's statement, published on the official Number10.gov.uk website, concludes: "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."

Turing made a significant contribution to computer science with his 1936 paper, On Computable Numbers, and came up with the concept of what we still call the Turing Test for intelligent machines. However, he is best known for his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during the second world war, where he helped to develop the Bombe that deciphered messages encoded using Enigma machines.

The prime minister's apology says: "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."

The apology was prompted by an E-Petition at the Number10.gov site, which attracted more than 30,000 signatures.

The petition was launched by John Graham-Cumming, a computer scientist, blogger, and author of The Geek Atlas. In early August, he wrote that: "If 500 people sign it there will eventually be a response from the government". It reached a much bigger audience with the backing of supporters such as Ian McEwan, Richard Dawkins, and gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

But as Graham-Cumming commented later: "You don't have to be gay to think that prosecuting a man for a private consensual sex act who just seven years before had been hailed as a hero of the Second World War was simply wrong. You simply have to be human."

Contributor

Jack Schofield

The GuardianTramp

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