Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made an apology to Alan Turing, the mathematician and cryptographer whose work at Bletchley Park had profound consequences in shortening World War II. Turing, whose pioneering work in computer theory remains hugely influential, was homosexual and killed himself in 1954 after being prosecuted under anti-gay laws and forced to receive hormonal medication to chemically castrate him.
In the apology, made on behalf of the British government and published this evening on the Daily Telegraph's website, Brown calls Turing a "real war hero" and says that the recognition of wrongdoing is long overdue. He says:
"While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time, and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair, and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted, as he was convicted, under homophobic laws, were treated terribly"
The apology follows an online petition started by John Graham-Cumming, computer programmer and author of The Geek Atlas, which today stood at over 30,000 signatures. The petition had gathered considerable media attention and the support of high profile intellectual celebrities such as Ian McEwan, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry. Graham-Cumming has also called for a posthumous pardon and knighthood for Turing, but told the BBC previously that the symbolism of an apology was most important to him.
"The most important thing to me is that people hear about Alan Turing and realise his incredible impact on the modern world, and how terrible the impact of prejudice was on him," he said.