Letters: A pardon for Alan Turing

Turing and other gay men were destroyed by the law
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The Independent Online

Alan Turing was considered a criminal because he dared to love ("The Turing Enigma: campaigners demand pardon for mathematical genius" (18 August). I have written to the government on many occasions seeking an apology for Mr Turing and the thousands of others caught up in what was a "hate" law: it specifically targeted men (gender discrimination) and men who had sex with other men (sexual orientation discrimination).

The government has refused to offer an apology. Is that because 24 per cent of people still think gay sex should be illegal, according to a 2008 poll? Gay sex was only partially decriminalised in 1967. It remained illegal for two men to engage in consensual sex, hold hands and even kiss, where a third person could have access.

The gross indecency law was not fully swept away until 2003. Parliament did so only because the European Court of Human Rights ruled it contravened human rights in the case ADT versus the UK (August 2000). The national police database contains the records of 17,774 gay men convicted for engaging in consensual sex with other men since 1974, records which the police can use over and over again and share with others as they see fit, perpetuating the discrimination for years despite the law being repealed. The police refuse to destroy these old records and gay men must still declare the conviction in certain situations.

Again, I call on the government to apologise to Alan Turing and the many other men whose lives were destroyed by the old gross indecency law.

Steven Pruner

Chelmsford, Essex

Your article states that Alan Turing moved to the US to work for the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) after the Second World War. Turing did move to the NPL, but not to the US. The laboratory is based in Teddington, Middlesex, and from 1945 to 1947 Turing was based there and lived in nearby Hampton.

During this time, he worked on the design of the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) and presented a paper on the first detailed design of a stored-program computer. Turing did spend time in the US as a student and a British envoy, but his ground-breaking research was all done on home soil. He is an essential part of the UK's, and NPL's, scientific heritage.

Dr Martyn Sené

Operations Director, National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex

Could Jane Penson (letters, 20 August) tell us which members of the "gay community"are to be asked what a suitable tribute to Alan Turing should be? If she doesn't know, perhaps Peter Tatchell could organise a postal vote?

Matthew Nicholls


The obsession with Oxbridge

Anyone unfamiliar with this country and reading your front page of 13 August might well imagine that there are only two universities in the United Kingdom. Genuine problems of university admission and accessibility are distorted by journalists constant harping on the difficulties associated with entrance to Oxford and Cambridge.

Dominic Lawson, earlier in the week, castigated state schools for not encouraging pupils to apply to "Oxbridge". Can anyone explain why any school, state or independent, should encourage their brightest students to swell the already vast excess of candidates to these two universities, thereby courting disappointment and possibly missing places at other over-subscribed universities, merely to give Oxford and Cambridge an even bigger pool of talent from which to select the lucky few.

Any sensible sixth-form tutor will advise their students that they are applying to university not to please the school or their parents but for themselves. If a pupil's main ambition is to join the Bullingdon Club or the Footlights, by all means risk everything to get in. Otherwise, the tutor's duty is to find the best courses for the individual student, and these are by no means certain to be in Oxford or Cambridge.

Jenny Bryer


Yet again you seek to perpetuate the old half-truth about Laura Spence, "rejected by Oxford, accepted by Harvard". Ms Spence was accepted to study biochemistry at Harvard. Had she applied to read the same subject at Oxford there is little doubt she would have secured a place.

Her Oxford application was for medicine and the only reason for her rejection was being among numerous, equally well-qualified, applicants.

Derek Haslam

Colne, Lancashire

So New Labour wants "disadvantaged" students with poor grades to get pushed into university. But why stop there? As an airline captain, I think that what this country really needs is more disadvantaged students to get into flight-school.

Safe, competent and professional pilots are so yesterday; what we really need is more disadvantaged but incompetent pilots in aviation. Only then, having demonstrated this new policy's effectiveness, should we apply this principle across other industries and fields of endeavour.

Rod Elliot

Northwich, Cheshire

China leads the way on climate

If we are to debate China's civilisation, by anyone's "standards" (letters, 1 and 6 August), the most vital statistic, by far, is the "per capita carbon burn rate". China emits just four tonnes of CO2 per person, one-third of the individual UK consumption (12 tonnes) and one-sixth that of an American (24 tonnes).

China achieves this humblingly low pollution (and low fossil-fuel burn rate) at the same time as making us most of our "stuff", and relieving us of most of our "waste". Thus we start well behind, in the race to face the apocalyptic twin peaks: oil and CO2.

Politically, it is precisely per capita emissions that count if we are to reach civilised global agreement on cutting the carbon. Only fair shares can ever be agreed equitably. With China now building one new wind turbine every hour, there is much Chinese to learn.

Dave Hampton

Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Why the UN voted for Israel

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right about combating hate with humanity (Opinion, 17 August) but when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict circulating myths harms, not helps, that project. She writes that the United Nations "appropriated part of Palestine to create a Jewish state" which was "in part, Europe seeking expiation for the Holocaust". Both positions are entirely incorrect.

The UN partition plan was explicitly confined to the "future government of Palestine" and was not a solution to the "Jewish problem", a euphemistic reference to the Holocaust.

The USSR and Poland were unique among UN members in referring to the scale of Jewish suffering in the war. When anti-Semitic remarks were made in the debates not one delegate rose to object.

The creation of Israel was not an act of repentance but the recognition by the international community that two nations legitimately existed on Palestinian soil, and both should exercise self-determination.

John Strawson

Reader in Law

University of East London

For Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to say the majority of Israelis harbour intense anti-Muslim prejudices is to misunderstand the way Israelis think. On numerous visits to Israel I have never come across such prejudices. The free media consistently questioning government policy and the attitudes of Israelis would never allow for these prejudices to be prevalent for long, although, as in all countries, some extremes of thought do occur.

In Israel, there is the consensus that Fatah, Hamas and many Muslim countries are seeking to end Israel's existence either through politics or armed conflict, but that is based on rationale, not prejudice.

Richard Millett

London NW4

Anger over the Lockerbie bomber

Freeing the Lockerbie bomber is outrageous; it shows no compassion for the 270 victims who lost their lives, or their families. Terrorists, even remorseful ones, should never be released.

The families of those 270 people who died on Pan Am Flight 103 have been treated with contempt by the Scottish Justice Secretary. Their views should have been taken into consideration before this heinous decision was made.

Oliver Healey

Telford, Shropshire

How interesting that the people who express strong condemnation precisely on the grounds that "he showed no compassion to those on that plane" are also the people who advocate we show no compassion for the dying bomber. Since when do two wrongs make a right?

Because it is ethically right to show compassion, Kenny McAskill stood his ground against American pressure, and rightly so. At least, we can be proud that we wish to be seen as upholding human morality.

Jenny Backwell

Hove, East Sussex

With regard to the howls of protest from America about the release or transfer of "the Lockerbie bomber": could anyone remind me how many years in jail were served by the American(s) responsible for the downing of the Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988, killing all 290 aboard, including 66 children?

Hedley Sutton

Cinderford, Gloucestershire

No easy fix for African corruption

No one could disagree with Ian Birrell ("Big Men, bankers and the stench of corruption", 18 August) that the obscene balances held overseas by corrupt African politicians are unacceptable. But his proposal that "the global banking system must start to trace, freeze and return Africa's stolen money" is too simplistic.

Banks do not have the power to arbitrarily freeze accounts; this process is governed by civil or criminal legal processes, initiated by parties who have an interest in the funds. Second, proving money has been "stolen" is not as easy as it might sound when the legal system of the originating country is also corrupt.

There has been a proposal that any developing country considering writing down or writing off its debts should have to sign over to its creditors the right to pursue all funds corruptly diverted to overseas bank accounts. A similar principle could be applied to countries applying for major aid.

Paul Rex

Hook, Hampshire


No happy returns

Rising stock markets, the return of house-price inflation and bankers' bonuses and, as a bonus, no new revelations re MPs' second, third (and duck) houses: it's time to celebrate, safe in the knowledge that we have addressed the fundamental issues that caused the problems in the first place. Oh, wait a minute...

Alan Gilchrist


Tobacco duty error

Your article "Tobacco smugglers to make a packet from Customs blunder" (19 August) is misleading. Since 2005, the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office has collected £88.6m in criminal assets from confiscation orders. This total relates to all our prosecution work, of which tobacco smuggling is a small part. The review relates only to tobacco smuggling and we anticipate that 90 per cent of cases will be unaffected. So far, only about £10,000 has had to be returned. In none of these cases is the conviction at stake.

David Green QC

Director, Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office, London SE1

Wheels of misfortune

The main difference between a motorist injuring a cyclist, and a cyclist injuring a pedestrian (letters, 17 August), is that motorists have to be insured, and cyclists do not. The damages which could be awarded could bankrupt a cyclist, and there is a high chance that the injured person would not be adequately compensated. Even if a cyclist has public liability insurance, would that cover her or him if cycling on a footway?

Ian Turnbull

Carlisle, Cumbria

Blow for Britain

Anne McIntosh's possible de-selection as an MP is not only a "blow to party leader David Cameron" (report, 19 August) but as her party is likely to form our government next year, it is a blow to the country. Cameron's prospective government is alarmingly socially unrepresentative, with few women and a vastly disproportionate number of former Etonians, and this compounds the situation. If a government lacks a real social representation it is not just to the detriment of their image but to the detriment of our democracy.

Mitya Pearson

Langley, Norfolk

Plastic cash

Jeremy Stubbs, writing about the shortage of £5 notes (letters, 19 August), states, "The sensible thing to do would be to have plastic notes, as in Australia, but we don't do sensible" (letter, 19 August). Actually, we "do sensible" in one corner of the United Kingdom; in Northern Ireland, the Northern Bank issues plastic £5 notes and has done so for some time.

C D C Armstrong