Brown apologizes to WW2 British codebreaker

Fri Sep 11, 2009 10:29am EDT
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By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized on Friday for the treatment of World War Two codebreaker Alan Turing who committed suicide after being convicted and chemically castrated for being a homosexual.

Mathematician Turing led a team at Bletchley Park country House north of London which cracked the Nazis' Enigma code -- regarded by the Germans as unbreakable -- a move credited with helping to shorten the war and save countless lives.

However, five years after the war he was convicted of gross indecency under laws which banned homosexuality and was sentenced to chemical castration involving a series of injections of female hormones.

The conviction meant Turing, a pioneer of modern computing, losing his security clearance and being unable to continue his work. In 1954 he killed himself at the age of 41.

Following a petition signed by more than 30,000 people on the website of Brown's Downing Street office, calling for an apology, Brown issued a statement expressing the government's sorrow for Turing's "appalling" treatment.

"It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different," Brown said.

"The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely."

Turing, Brown said, had deserved "so much better."   Continued...

<p>A British Turing Bombe machine is seen functioning in Bletchley Park Museum in Bletchley, central England, September 6, 2006. For the first time in sixty years Bletchley Park re-created the way the 'unbreakable' Enigma code was broken using functioning World War Two equipment. The Bombe was the brainchild of mathematical geniuses Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, and enabled Bletchley Park's Cryptographers to decode over 3000 enemy messages a day breaking the codes created by German military Enigma machine during World War Two. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico</p>