The second reading of the bill to posthumously pardon enigma code breaker Alan Turing has been delayed by the opposition of a single Tory MP. Turing was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency and chemically castrated, in a case which has since gone down in history as one of the UK’s biggest injustices.
During the Second World War, Alan Turing worked at the famous Bletchley Park cracking German codes. A mathematical genius, Turing designed the first modern computer using parts from a telephone exchange in order to better crack the German codes.
Modern computers, while obviously more powerful, are descended from Turing’s 1940s era design and still work on the same principles. Therefore, Turing is frequently credited with being not just a national hero who lent invaluable help with the war effort, but the father of the computing age.
Turing was also a homosexual, which was illegal in Britain until 1967. In 1952 – 15 years before the change in the law – Turing was convicted of gross indecency and offered a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration. He chose the latter. Eventually, the unjust treatment of Turing led him to commit suicide two years later, dying of cyanide poisoning at the age of 41.
It is now widely recognised that the criminalisation of homosexuality was an unjust law. However, the treatment of Turing has been singled out as a particular injustice given his massive contributions both to the UK’s war efforts and modern technology. In 2009, this led the government to issue a public apology for the incident, delivered by then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
More recently, the bill to issue Turing with a posthumous statutory pardon gained significant government support in July. The bill has benefited from widespread support and passed decisively through the House of Lords last month. Upon moving to the House of Commons, however, the bill found itself held up by the lone objection of Tory MP Christopher Chope.
Turing’s life – including his work at Bletchley Park and his unjust persecution by the state – are to be portrayed in an upcoming film. The film will be entitled The Imitation Game, and will star Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing and will also feature Keira Knightley. Filming was completed earlier this month, and the production is due for release in 2014.
The bill will now have its second reading in February 2014. Lib Dem MP John Leech, who first proposed the bill, has expressed disappointment at the delay.