Coffee House

Cable and Gove are right, it is time to pardon this war hero

19 July 2013

Alan Turing was one of the reasons why Britain won the Second World War. His mathematical and computing skills were vital to cracking the Enigma code. Yet, Turing committed suicide less than 10 years after the end of the war. A conviction for gross indecency for private, consensual gay sex followed by a sentence of chemical castration had taken its toll.

Today, the House of Lords debates Lord Sharkey’s bill to grant Turing a statutory pardon. In The Times yesterday, Matthew Ridley argued that rather than a pardon, which would imply that Turing’s actions were criminal, the government should put him on a plinth in Trafalgar Square. But I think the case for a posthumous pardon is strong, as it would be a symbol of national atonement and an act of contrition to the memory of a war hero.


But, this government is refusing to grant him a posthumous pardon. Earlier this month, the Criminal Justice Minister Damian Green wrote to colleagues arguing that the government should take a ‘neutral stance’ towards Lord Sharkey’s attempt to win a ‘statutory pardon’ for Turing. He also said that he had ‘concluded that now is not the right time’ to simply grant Turing a pardon on mercy grounds.

This letter infuriated the Business Secretary Vince Cable. He wrote back declaring that the refusal to grant a posthumous pardon to this ‘scientific giant’ was ‘contrary to this Government’s attempts to create a fairer society, free from discrimination.’ The next day, Gove weighed in with his support, saying that he ‘strongly’ agreed with Cable. He said that ‘criminalisation of homosexual behaviour is utterly reprehensible’ and that he therefore believed the ‘time is absolutely right to grant Dr Turing a posthumous pardon.’

As I said in the Mail on Sunday, Cable and Gove are about an unusual alliance as you could imagine. Cable is the voice of the Liberal Democrat left in government and Gove the darling of the Tory radical right. But on this issue Michael agrees with Vince.

Let’s hope that their humanity wins out over the system’s bureaucratic heartlessness. Never should it not be the ‘the right time’ for the government to do right by those who ensured this country’s survival.

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  • peter holland

    I disagree. It is a waste of time trying to change history in this way. He committed a crime in the laws at that time , let it stand. What about all the petty thieves etc. which were sentenced and even hung should they receive a pardon also?
    Should we now charge Heath with treason over his lies to the British people?

  • Radford_NG

    The heroes are the RN sailors who died in a sinking U-boat trying to rescue German coding equipment.Also the Poles who captured other equipment to send to Betchley. Turing was a desk-walla using his unusual ability to do a particular job he was paid for,as did millions of others.(But who probable accidentally poisoned himself getting up to the same experiments as Sherlock Holmes.)

  • FrankS

    Cable claims that pardoning Alan Turing would be in line with creating a society ” free from discrimination”.
    The Sage of Twickenham shows himself to have a mind free from logic – pardoning Alan Turing because of his role in the war would be blatant discrimination against all the others convicted under the same laws but without the same illustrious record.

  • Tyke

    Oh …..and as many of the usuals including from the other coffehousewall are commenting on this issue – I would be interested in thoughts on this link.

  • Tyke

    Did anyone hear the story that Apple company logo is a dedication to how this (flawed) genius committed suicide? I don’t know if this is true – maybe only Steve Jobs can answer – but it might give you lot something else to argue about. ESP the Scottish chap!

  • Rockin Ron

    To offer a pardon suits Cameron and his ilk. In fact, it’s in line with what his hero, Tony Blair did on more than one occasion. It suits immature politicians because they can garner cheap publicity at no cost. Funny how fraudsters like Blair and Cameron jump at the chance to pardon for past errors but don’t admit to the mistakes of their Government until many years after power. A pardon would add nothing to the greatness of Dr. Turing, so what is the point apart from to seek publicity?

    A totally, fake, empty gesture from a totally, fake and empty Prime Minister.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Will the government also pardon everyone else convicted of the offences that Turing was convicted of or is this another case of forgiving the elite without forgiving the masses? In other words just another crass piece of liberal posturing from the Westminster political elite?

    For that matter how many other crimes of yesteryear are no longer crimes and should therefore on the basis of Sharkey’s proposal be postumously pardoned?

    Should we apologise for all those hanged in the 20th Century for killing women (the vast majority of those hanged) because we no longer hang people?

    Still I suppose it does provide cover for the fact the Libdems have done virtually nothing of value in government. Such a task could be given to Clegg, Cable and Davey to give them a purpose and keep them out of mischief I suppose……

    Frankly though I would prefer our political classes to focus on today and not waste the taxpayers money apologising for what happened before they were old enough to wear long trousers at best (Sharkey was 7 when Turing died) . Imposing today’s values (as if it could rewrite history) on the UK of the past is possibly the most purile and arrogant posturing there is from our contemporary political class. I’d much rather they apologise for their own mistakes than apologise for their now long dead predecessors.


    Surely what he was convicted of no longer exists as a crime.

  • Fergus Pickering

    I think it is time to pardon him too, but he was not a war hero. The word hero should be used more sparingly. Nowadays any successful sportsman is a hero, but I am surprised at you, Mr Forsyth, for encouraging this witless trend..

  • Regislea

    Pardon him – and everyone else who was hounded for that particular “crime”. And wouldn’t this be the “right time” for a pardon for Stephen Ward?

  • justejudexultionis

    I would point out that by today’s standards of evidence there would be insufficient proof for a verdict of suicide in this poor man’s death. He was at the time conducting experiments involving the use of cyanide so that his apple may have become contaminated as a result. Whatever the case, it is a tragic case and Turing deserves our utmost honour and respect.

  • justejudexultionis

    Does that mean that war hero Thatcher will get a posthumous pardon too for her crimes against everywhere in the country except the Home Counties?

    • Fergus Pickering

      I say, how witty.

  • Jimmy R

    Sorry but Turing broke the law as it stood at the time, was given a fair trial and was correctly found guilty of having broken the law. That is a simple and verifiable fact. As far as I am concerned that in no way detracts from his brilliance, his contribution towards winning the last World War or the place he should rightly hold in our history. Neither does it cause any impediment to him having the acclaim he is due, including the erection of a statue of him should one be deemed a suitable reminder of what he did for the nation.

    Trying to scrub out part of his life s if it never happened is completely farcical and ranks with the current silliness of people running round and posturing by issuing profound apologies for the now unacceptable activities of people from a past age, long dead, towards other people from the same age, also long dead.
    The past is the past and rewriting history simply to appease our own current sensibilities and to suit our own wishes is a total nonsense and, in reality, changes nothing. What happened to Turing happened and nothing can change that and to try to sweep it under the carpet is not only futile but is an insult to him, his suffering and the story of his life.
    Scrubbing bits of history out because we currently disagree with what happened is a dangerous road to start down because the lessons we have learned from those periods, once forgotten, can all to easily be repeated. Turing’s story is Turing’s story and we certainly should not tinker with it or try to rewrite it for our own convenience.

    • Tom M

      I indeed agree with what you say. The law at the time was the law. No amount of wriggling can alter that. That was what they thought at the time and was their right to do so.
      Having read of the wartime exploits of our codebreakers and other country’s over the years I’m left with the view that Great Britian contributed a lot to this field but we weren’t in a class of our own and we shouldn’t overrate our contributions (as we always do).

      Other countries were a lot cleverer than us in pure codebreaking and as far as Bletchley Park goes Alan Turing, brilliant as he apparently was, was part of a team and a somewhat difficult to handle member at that.
      I fear that Alan Turing has been singled out from the other auspicious members of that team for individual fame because of what he was and persecuted for.

  • Austin Barry

    Let’s also pardon Oscar Wilde.

    • Fergus Pickering

      That’s OK by me. Let’s do it.

  • Andy

    What most of you are doing is applying your 21st Century version of Morality on the past. The question is was Turing correctly found guilty in accordance with the Law as it was then, not as it is now, nor as you all think it should have been then but wasn’t ? The answer to that question is yes he was. I think Alan Turing should be allowed to rest in peace and does not deserve people using him and his name as a football for their own reasons.

  • Daniel Maris

    Consensual? One was an unemployed guy met on the street aged 19…the other was a brilliant and prosperous intellectual some 20 years older. I suppose you could call that consensual…or you could call it exploitation. That’s quite an age gap and quite a wealth gap.

    One can condemn the legislation that was in force at the time but this is a complex ethical area. Turing had no reason to report the burglary (allegedly by his young lover’s friend) just as Wilde had no reason to sue Queensberry for libel (especially since it would mean lying under oath). Also, Turing did not have to accept the “chemcial castration” drugs i.e. it is wrong to say he was forced to undergo the treatment.

    • DrCoxon

      It is not easy to ascertain the truth of the case but I have heard it stated that the cause for concern was Turing’s association with a Scandinavian who was deemed a security risk. It is alleged that Turing would not heed the advice that was given to him.
      Requiescat in pace.

  • AndyB

    Personally, I think you can make excuses and cavil about anachronistic viewpoints but Turing was one of greatest heroes of WWII. Period. He is an exception and in granting a pardon we at least finally recognize his contribution. Anyone who acknowledges his contribution should be ashamed of themselves at refusing to clear his record IMHO. It can hardly be regarded as a precedent – that would, truly, be anachronistic.

  • salieri

    Taking a ‘neutral stance’ looks rather feeble, doesn’t it, at the end of the week when gay marriage became lawful? It’s also silly to say that a pardon would imply that Turing’s indiscretions were criminal: it is precisely because they did constitute criminal behaviour at the time that a pardon is needed. But to my mind what is (and was) unpardonable was chemical castration as an answer to deviance, as the authorities saw it. That attitude was worthy of the Nazis he did so much to defeat.

    He can’t have a posthumous knighthood, but why not a statue AND a pardon?

    • allymax bruce

      Westminster forcing Homosexual mariage on the people & nation, (without asking the people), doesn’t make it right; same effect/ethics as the illegal Iraq war. In these circumstances, Homosexual mariage will always be illegal, because it was forced on us; can’t yoos morons ever learn?
      Turing was clever, (genius is a bit much), but so is the decimated poor Glesca kid, impoverished, and never given a chance by the Union Westminster elitist class-system.

      • salieri

        Did I offer any opinion whatever about gay marriage? And was it necessary to bring the bloody Scottish underclass into even this debate? It might be an idea to look up fancy words like decimated before you use them – though 90% of a poor wee Glesca kid might be a start.

        • allymax bruce

          You are the only one that brought ‘gay ‘ (I think you mean homosexual ), marriage into this commentary!
          Decimated means 1in 10; are you really that stupid you don’t know what decimated means?
          Seems I’ve attracted Labour HQ trolling Dept;I must be doing something right !

      • AtMyDeskToday

        You really are a nasty, deluded piece of sh*t, and take down that flag lest you discredit it.

        • Wessex Man

          has it taken you all this long to realise just what a piece of work he is?

        • allymax bruce

          Oh dear, point out the obvious about homosexual mariage, and the bigots don’t like it. Seems the 98.7% of society must jump to the single percentile ideals of their bigotted ‘morality’. The massive majority of society aren’t getting a say in a very important installation of legislation, that has negatively impacting recurring circumstances for society. Homosexual mariage has severe effects on society, but the bigots don’t care; they want their way, and they’ll scweam &scweam, &scweam until they get it. The French had homosexual mariage forced on them, and their society are curious about it. But the bigots from the homosexual lobby want everything their way, and they’ll call you all the names under the sun until they get it. So much for Democracy !
          Fraser Nelson has just realised the deleterious effects behind Westminster’s immigration policy they clever in us; just like EU Lisbon, Iraq War, Hmmm, there arms to be a pattern forming here; all Westminster laws/policies forced on us, are bad for us !
          My opinions are debated, valid, and qualified. Unlike your nasty piece of Ah*t

        • allymax bruce

          Oh-Yeh; you’re a fake!
          Probably Labour HQ smearing/trolling Dept!

      • kyalami

        Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t believe homosexual marriage is forced on anyone. That would constitute rape. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the only people undertaking homosexual marriage are consenting homosexual adults.

  • itdoesntaddup

    The government needs to take a Turing Test.

    The reality is that his achievements are celebrated: BP (Bletchley Park) is a museum to the ENIGMA team with at times uncertain funding. Far better than a statue in London, keep the museum going, and encourage children to visit it and understand what was achieved there.

  • MirthaTidville

    Sorry to rain on everybody`s parade, but Damian Green is right to be cautious. Whatever we think today, at the time, Turing actions were criminal and he was dealt with under the criminal law, as were many other men, as apertained at THAT time.

    What is regrettable is that people who ought to know better are making political points by judging history by the values of today. That should never be.

    Turing was a genius and there is no reason why his wonderful achievements shouldn`t be better recognized. A plinth in Trafalgar Square would indeed be a fitting tribute, but for God`s sake dwell on his strengths and ignore his weakness for which he paid a terrible personal price.

    • kyalami

      I am sorry but I disagree.

      The law was utterly wrong and imposed an immense burden on those born with homosexual tendencies. Despite the fact that society discriminated so strongly against him, Turing faithfully served his country and led an effort that substantially shortened the war.

      I can see much to favour a pardon, and nothing against one.

      • MirthaTidville

        You may think the law was utterly wrong and presumably you think similar of hanging which was carried out at the time….do you think a pardon for all those hanged is something appropriate as well?

        • kyalami

          There is a difference between the crime and its punishment. Some of those hanged may have been guilty of murder or other grievous crimes. I see no reason to pardon them.

        • Fergus Pickering

          No of course not. The pardon would not be for the hanging but for the crime.

      • SimonToo

        Pardoning Turing at the time would have raised the problem of acknowledging at that time what, and how great, were his services to this country. That was far too secret a matter then for the drawing of any attention to it to be countenanced.

        It is only since the revelations about Bletchley Park, long after Turing’s death, that a pardon could be considered, but it would make no difference to him (and he has no descendants to be affected). It could also be argued that the legalisation of homosexual acts in the late 60s could be seen as a far better acknowledgment of unfairness than would a pardon for a an act that is no longer criminal.

        There is no suggestion that Turing was the only homosexual to serve his country faithfully.

        If Turing is to be pardoned, then surely it must follow that there should be a pardon for everyone convicted of homosexual acts which are no longer illegal. Indeed, that does not go far enough. It must follow that anyone convicted, at any time in the past, of anything which is no longer illegal should be also pardoned. It might be just, but it would be a change which would be hard to implement.

        • kyalami

          It would, I suspect, be rare to find someone who served his country so faithfully and to such great effect.

          • DrCoxon

            I suggest that there were millions who served their country so faithfully. My mother’s first husband gave his life.
            You are correct in saying that Turing’s efforts were of singular and decisive importance.

        • salieri

          Your conclusion is entirely logical. But I would suggest that its premise is open to question. It is not the case that a pardon has been proposed merely on the grounds that what was then illegal is now legal. Rather, it is the fact that society regards the achievements of a specific individual – and yes, he was unquestionably a genius – as having transcended the morality or legalities of his time, whether these survive or not. The best examples of this distinction are surely the 346 (official) summary executions for cowardice or desertion during WW1: they had a legal basis, a discernible purpose and a contemporary justification: and yet in retrospect they were utterly wrong.

          • SimonToo

            To talk of someone transcending the legalities of his time is to enter dangerous ground. In Turing’s case, unfortunately, he was ground down by the legalities of his time. For us to perceive a transcendence which he was wholly unable to detect could imply a denigration of the man.

            To pardon the crime, now the deed is no longer a crime, is irrelevant and misses the point that Turing’s resulting suffering is now irremediable. His crime itself is now irrelevant, so let us put up a statue to commemorate his achievements. Make it a good one and put it somewhere prominent.

            As for the pardon of those executed in WW I, I have never been clear what that meant. Were they pardoned for their offences or for the penalties they received ? If they were pardoned for their offences, why were those who were convicted of the same offences, but whose sentences were less than death, not pardoned as well ? Or were they just pardoned the penalty – if so, what does pardoning the penalty actually mean, especially after the death sentence has been executed ?

    • roger

      A statue in London, Trafalgar Sq. , is a very good idea, after all there is a statue to Churchill outside parliament , also very flawed man who did good as well as bad.

    • Fergus Pickering

      What was his weakness if I may ask?

      • DrCoxon

        If you research the case of Admiral Dudley Smith you will see an unattractive side of Churchill, I am sad to say.

        • Fergus Pickering

          You misunderstand me. I was asking what Turing’s weakness was. Picking up an attractive nineteen year old is something we might all do if we could. With some it would be a girl, with some a boy. .

  • HookesLaw

    I believe that Trafalgar Square should be remodelled. The name gives it away and the plinths should be occupied by naval heroes and reflect naval battles or campaigns.
    Frobisher and Drake etc for the Armada
    Cochrane would be quite a good choice for the Napoleonic era
    But the Battle of the Atlantic could be reflected amongst others with Turing

    Its the job of the Criminal Justice Minister be cautious, but Turing certainly deserves a pardon. The technical niceties really ought to be ignored, the pardon simply reflects our apologies and forgiveness to a remarkable man who lived through wholly exceptional times

    • bigfellakayn

      Wasn’t Trafalgar a naval battle ?
      Yes Turing should be pardoned, not that I agree with his sexual preferences, but he really does deserve a posthumous honour. If you can get a knighthood for riding a bike, a similar recognition would certainly be much deserved !

  • Bluesman_1

    Not only pardoned, not only a prominent public statue (from public subscription) but to be taught in any history of WW2 worthy of the name.
    Gaun yersel Citizen Starkey!

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