Peter Tatchell urges Prime Minister to launch new probe into Alan Turing’s death and to extend pardon

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Peter Tatchell has written to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for a new inquiry into the death of Alan Turing in order to “dispel any doubts about the true cause of his death”, the human rights campaigner also believes the recent royal pardon granted to Turing should be extended to all men convicted under the same gross indecency law.

Dear David Cameron,

Extend the Alan Turing pardon to 50,000+ other victims.

Initiate new inquiry into Turing’s death. Open security service files on Turing.

I am writing to commend all those involved in securing a royal pardon for Alan Turing for his 1952 conviction for homosexual relations. This goes some considerable way towards putting right a grave injustice.

However, one big issue thrown up by Turing’s pardon is: Why him alone? Singling out Turing for a royal pardon just because he was a great scientist and very famous is wrong in principle. The law should be applied equally, without fear or favour, regardless of whether a person is a well-known high achiever – or not. Selective redress is a bad way to remedy a historic injustice.

At least 50,000 other men were convicted under the same ‘gross indecency’ law from the time it was first legislated in 1885 until its repeal in 2003. They have never been offered a pardon but deserve one, equally as much as Turing.

An estimated 15,000 men of these men are still alive. It is not too late for them to receive a measure of justice in the form of a royal pardon.

These men were criminalised and penalised for victimless behaviour that was not a crime between heterosexual men and women.

Turing and the other 50,000+ men were 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 Likewise, the law against ‘buggery’, which was legislated in 1533 during the reign of King Henry VIII, was only repealed in 2003.

The criminalisation of homosexuality finally 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.

I am therefore asking you to extend a pardon to all men convicted of consenting adult same-sex relations since 1885; including convictions for gross indecency and also for buggery, procuring and soliciting.

While the government has already acted (very commendably) to allow men convicted of these offences to apply to have them disregarded, this does not erase their conviction. It still stands but is merely not counted against them. This is not as good as a pardon.

The precedent for a mass pardon is the government’s granting of a pardon in 2006 to more than 300 soldiers who were executed for alleged cowardice and desertion during World War One. If they can have a pardon, why not gay and bisexual men?

The second point I want to raise is the case for a new inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Alan Turing.

He is generally believed to have committed suicide following his conviction and chemical castration. However, 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. Moreover, he was in an upbeat mood at the time of his death and making plans for the future – not the typical profile of a person who takes their own life.

A new inquiry is long overdue, even if only to dispel any doubts about the true cause of his death – including speculation that he was murdered by the security services (or others).

I think murder by state agents is unlikely. There is no known evidence pointing to any such act. However, it is a major failing that this possibility has never been considered or investigated. Even if the security services did not kill him, did they pressure him and did this pressure contribute to his suicide?

We know Turing was under observation and a person of concern to the security services.

He 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 McCarthyite-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, especially following the unmasking of the bisexual and gay spies, respectively Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess.

Turing fell under suspicion. His security clearance was withdrawn and he was barred from further work at the spy agency GCHQ.

I am therefore requesting the following information:

Was Turing subjected to MI5 or MI6 surveillance, pressure or threats?

Were the security services in contact with Turing in the two years prior to his death? What was the frequency and nature of this contact?

Can the security service files on Turing be examined and made open to the public?

It is very important that Turing’s family and the public are informed. It is time we knew the full truth, whatever that may be.

The security services were certainly fearful that Turing was vulnerable to blackmail and probably anxious that he might pass information to the Soviets. The British nuclear scientist Klaus Fuchs was convicted in 1950 of assisting the Soviet Union’s atomic programme. There was an irrational, paranoid fear that other leading scientists, perhaps including Turing, might also aid the Soviets; in Turing’s case may be as revenge for the way he’d been mistreated.

There is, of course, not a shred of evidence that Turing ever considered betraying Britain. But the fevered minds of security spooks often thought otherwise about many loyal, patriotic citizens. Enough to kill him? Probably not. But if they exercised pressure on him it may have pushed him over the edge into suicide.

This is why a thorough, comprehensive inquiry is needed. We need to establish for certain what role, if any, the security services (or others) played in the run-up to his passing.

I am therefore requesting that an independent inquiry is opened into Alan Turing’s death, to re-examine the causes and any possible role played by the security services, including any contact with him and any pressures or threats they may have made to him.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Tatchell

Peter Tatchell is director of the London-based human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, and coordinator of the Equal Love campaign.

As with all comment articles the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of

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