31 Jan 2015

Campaign to pardon gay men goes on without William and Kate

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stay out of a campaign to gain pardons for tens of thousands of men convicted of being gay, led by Alan Turing actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

The campaign wants pardons for 49,000 men prosecuted because of their sexuality alongside World War Two codebreaker Alan Turing, who received a posthumous pardon in December.

Actors Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch – who played Turing in The Imitation Game film -are among campaigners to have signed an open letter asking the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to support the campaign.

The UK’s homophobic laws made the lives of generations of gay and bisexual men intolerable Open letter

Turing was described by Winston Churchill as having “made the single biggest contribution to the Allied victory in the Second World War” – but was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for being gay, and committed suicide two years later.

Cumberbatch has been nominated for an Oscar for his role as Turing, the pioneering computer scientist who helped crack the Enigma code, and has called on the royal family to act and convince the government to pardon all those convicted under the law.

‘A matter for government’

“The UK’s homophobic laws made the lives of generations of gay and bisexual men intolerable,” the letter says.

“It is up to young leaders of today including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to acknowledge this mark on our history and not allow it to stand.

“We call upon Her Majesty’s Government to begin a discussion about the possibility of a pardoning all the men, alive or deceased, who like Alan Turing, were convicted.”

An estimated 15,000 men convicted under the law are believed to still be alive, the letter adds.

The letter is also signed by Rachel Barnes, Alan Turing’s niece, and Morten Tyldum, director of The Imitation Game.

But a spokesman for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said that as it is a matter for government they would not make any public comment on the issue.

In 2009, an “unequivocal apology” for Turing’s appalling treatment was issued by then prime minister Gordon Brown, followed by a posthumous pardon from the Queen under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in 2013.

Tragic death

Turing was pivotal in breaking the Enigma code, arguably shortening the Second World War by at least two years, and was chemically castrated following his conviction in 1952.

His conviction for “gross indecency” led to the removal of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) where he had continued to work following service at Bletchley Park during the war.

Turing died aged 41 in 1954 and is often described as the father of modern computing.

He died of cyanide poisoning and an inquest recorded a verdict of suicide, although his mother and others maintained his death was accidental.

There had been a long campaign to clear the mathematician’s name, including a well-supported e-petition and private member’s bill, along with support from leading scientists such as Sir Stephen Hawking.