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Europe

WWII code-breaking hero Alan Turing granted pardon

© AFP/SHERBORNE SCHOOL

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-24

Britain on Tuesday posthumously pardoned code-breaking hero Alan Turing, whose skills helped the Allies outfox the Nazis during World War Two but whose post-war conviction of homosexuality is believed to have driven him to suicide.

Turing is credited for cracking Nazi Germany’s “unbreakable” Enigma code and many historians say he played a pivotal role in bringing an early end to the war.

However, he was stripped of his job at Britain's electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ and chemically castrated with injections of female hormones after being convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for having sex with a man. Homosexual sex was illegal in Britain until 1967.

He died in 1954, aged 41, after eating an apple laced with cyanide.

Justice Minister Chris Grayling said Tuesday’s pardon from Queen Elizabeth would come into effect immediately and was a fitting tribute to "an exceptional man with a brilliant mind".

"His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed," he said.

The father of modern computing

Prime Minister David Cameron said the code-breaker's work had saved "countless lives".

"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," Cameron said.

"He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the father of modern computing."

The Enigma code was used to encrypt communications between German U-boats in the North Atlantic Ocean.

The work at Bletchley Park, a secluded country house north of London, only became public knowledge in the 1970s when its role in the war and that played by Turing was revealed.

The cryptographers who worked there are credited with helping to shorten World War Two by up to two years and they deciphered around 3,000 German military messages a day.

Turing also published pioneering work on early computers, writing in a 1936 paper of a "universal Turing machine".

Having told people he was trying to "build a brain", his theory was the first to consider feeding programmes into a machine as data, allowing a single machine to perform the functions of many – just like today's computers.

A GCHQ spokesperson on Tuesday said the agency was "delighted about the pardon".

2012 pardon call rejected

The pardon is a victory for supporters, including leading scientists such as Britain's Stephen Hawking, who have long campaigned to clear Turing's name.

In 2009, Britain's prime minister Gordon Brown issued a posthumous apology to the code-breaker, saying he had been treated "terribly".

But the government rejected a call to grant an official pardon last year on the grounds that Turing was properly convicted of what was then a criminal offence.

More than 37,000 people signed an online petition last year calling for a pardon.

Pardons are usually only granted in Britain when the person is innocent of the offence and when it is requested by someone with a vested interest, such as a family member.

Turing's pardon is extremely rare in that it has been granted despite neither of these conditions being met.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

 

Date created : 2013-12-24

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