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Stephen Hawking renews calls for Alan Turing to be pardoned

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Alan Turing was born in 1912 and hearlded as the father of modern computing

If anyone knows about fighting against the odds, it's eminent physicist Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed as suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease at the age of 21 and told he only had years to live. As we all know, the 70-year-old Hawking has gone on to establish himself as one of the most brilliant thinkers of our times.

But in his latest quest, Hawking and 10 other high-profile figures, face a fight against a seemingly immoveable foe: the British establishment. Their aim? To win a pardon for war-time code breaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing.

Hawkings, along with 10 other signatories, including the Astronomer Royal, Lord Rees of Ludlow and Sir Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society have written an open letter calling on the British government to cast aside previous intransigence, and formally pardon Turing.

“We urge the prime minister formally to forgive this British hero, to whom we owe so much as a nation, and whose pioneering contribution to computer sciences remains relevant even today,” they wrote in a letter to The Telegraph.

Turing was convicted of homosexuality in 1952, when the law perversely stated a person's sexuality could constitute a crime. The conviction ultimately resulted in Turing's untimely death at the age of just 41.

We have, sadly, been here before. The last government rejected calls for Turing to be pardoned, with then-prime minister Gordon Brown apologising, but deciding that Turing's conviction in 1952 was valid.

Hawking and his colleagues remain unmoved by such flimsy arguments.

“To those who seek to block attempts to secure a pardon with the argument that this would set a precedent, we would answer that Turing’s achievements are sui generis. It is time his reputation was unblemished,” they said.

Surely a pardon would be the most fitting tribute to finish the celebrations that marked the 100th year of Turing's birth?

14 Dec 2012

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