Pardon urged for 50,000+ men convicted of the same offence
London – 24 December 2013
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has written to the Prime Minister urging a new inquiry into the death of the scientist Alan Turing, who has just been granted a royal pardon for his 1952 conviction for homosexual relations.
“The government should open a new inquiry into the death of gay war-time code-breaker, mathematical genius and computer pioneer Alan Turing, including an investigation into the possibility he was murdered by the security services,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights advocacy organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
“The security services would have been very fearful that Turing was vulnerable to blackmail and anxious that he might pass information to the Soviets, as did the British nuclear scientist Klaus Fuchs, who was convicted in 1950 of assisting the Soviet Union’s atomic programme. There was an irrational, paranoid fear that other leading scientists might also aid the Soviets.
“Although there is no evidence that Turing was murdered by state agents, the fact that this possibility has never been investigated is a major failing. The original inquest into his death was perfunctory and inadequate. Although it is said that he died from eating an apple laced with cyanide, the allegedly fatal apple was never tested for cyanide. A new inquiry is long overdue, even if only to dispel any doubts about the true cause of his death.
“Turing was regarded as a high security risk because of his homosexuality and his expert knowledge of code-breaking, advanced mathematics and computer science. At the time of his death, Britain was gripped by a MacCarthyite-style anti-homosexual witch-hunt. Gay people were being hounded out of the armed forces and the civil and foreign services.
“In this frenzied homophobic atmosphere, all gay men were regarded as security risks – open to blackmail at a time when homosexuality was illegal and punishable by life imprisonment. Doubts were routinely cast on their loyalty and patriotism. Turing would have fallen under suspicion.
Royal pardon due to all men convicted of the same consenting offence
“Singling out Turing for a royal pardon just because he was a great scientist and very famous is wrong. At least 50,000 other men were convicted under the same law. They have never been offered a pardon and will never get one. Selective redress is a bad way to remedy a historic injustice.
“An estimated 15,000 men convicted of the same offence as Alan Turing are still alive.
“An apology and pardon is due to the other 50,000-plus men who were also convicted of consenting, victimless homosexual relationships during the twentieth century. These men were criminalised for consenting behaviour that was not a crime between heterosexual men and women.
“The precedent for a mass pardon is the granting of a pardon in 2006 to over 300 soldiers who were executed for alleged cowardice and desertion during World War One.
“Turing was convicted under the same ‘gross indecency’ law that sent Oscar Wilde to prison in 1895. It remained on the statute book until 2003, classified in the penal code under the heading ‘unnatural offences.” Likewise, the law against ‘buggery’, which was legislated in 1533 during the reign of King Henry VIII, was not repealed until 2003.
“The criminalisation of homosexuality only ended in 2003 in England and Wales. It is only since then that we have had a penal code that does not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation,” said Mr Tatchell.