Sorry is not enough

Alan Turing statue with artist Stephen Kettle
Alan Turing statue with artist Stephen Kettle

WINSTON Churchill described the Bletchley Park codebreakers as ‘the geese who laid the golden eggs and never cackled’.

But only a few years after they had helped to win the Second World War, the country that owed them so much treated their leading light like a battery hen, forcing him to pump himself full of chemicals.

Such was the indignity borne by Alan Turing that he took his own life.

Sixty years on and another Government is seemingly incapable of correcting the wrong its predecessor ruled over.

Mathematical genius Turing and his codebreaker cohorts successfully broke the German Enigma code during the war, giving the Allies a critical tool with which to win the Battle of the Atlantic and, eventually, defeat Germany.

But Turing was homosexual and in 1952 police charged him with gross indecency.

The same statute that had brought down Oscar Wilde in 1895 led to Turing being given the choice of spending a year behind bars or enduring an experimental hormone treatment to ‘fix’ his sexual orientation.

In an effort to save his career, Turing chose what amounted to chemical castration – a process which, among other things, saw him grow breasts.

A year later he committed suicide by taking a lethal dose of cyanide.

One of the greatest minds of the last century, the founding father of the computer and a war hero to boot, Alan Turing had been hounded to death by his own country.

A petition calling for him to be pardoned has now collected almost 30,000 signatures.

It states that Turing’s treatment ‘remains a shame on the UK government and UK history. A pardon can go to some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.’

But with the chance to put right a wrong, our Government rejected those calls.

The House of Lords, as antiquated a place as you could ever hope to find, dismissed all of Turing’s achievements and refused to grant him the pardon his memory deserves.

Their reason? Turing was convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence.

But maybe the British Government should take a leaf out of their Swiss counterparts’ book.

During the Second World War it was a crime in Switzerland for citizens to help German Jews flee the Nazis.

But 23-year-old Jakob Spirig aided Jewish refugees in crossing the border – and ended up in prison for his ‘crimes’.

In January 2004, the Swiss government pardoned Spirig, despite the fact he had been correctly prosecuted under the law of the time.

And on January 1 this year a new law came into effect which pardoned anyone persecuted for helping refugees escape Nazi Germany.

While the Swiss righted their wrongs, Britain rings its hands.

Turing did get an apology from then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009, but Milton Keynes Citizen believes sorry is not enough.

With the home of the codebreakers on our doorstep, we can’t sit by while the name of one of Bletchley Park’s greatest heroes continues to be mired.

That is why this newspaper today joins the battle to get Alan Turing pardoned.

And we ask that everyone in Milton Keynes does too.

> What do you think? Email the Citizen newsdesk at editorial@mkcitizen.co.uk