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Britain pardons code-breaking hero Alan Turing over homosexuality conviction

Britain has issued a pardon to the World War II code breaker Alan Turing over a conviction for homosexuality. Turing is regularly hailed as the father of modern computing and credited by many with shortening the war.

In a statement published on Tuesday, British Justice Minister Chris Grayling said the pardon from Queen Elizabeth would come into effect immediately.

He added that the pardon was a tribute to "an exceptional man with a brilliant mind." British Prime Minister David Cameron said Turing's work in breaking the German Enigma Code had saved "countless lives".

"Alan Turing was a remarkable man who played a key role in saving this country in World War II by cracking the German Enigma code," Cameron said. "He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the father of modern computing."

The Enigma code was used to encrypt German military communications, with Turing's work - famously carried out at Bletchley Park northwest of London - said to have given the Allies an edge against the Nazi regime. In particular, his code breaking is believed to have been instrumental in beating back the German offensive in North Africa and helping Allied shipping escape Nazi submarines in the Atlantic.

Conviction for 'indecency'

Before the war, Turing had already established ideas that would underpin modern computing, postulating ideas about artificial intelligence.

After 1945, he worked from the University of Manchester and helped program some of the world's first computers - notably developing one of the world's first electronic chess games.

Despite Turing's crucial part in the Allied war effort, the British government for decades refused to acknowledge his contribution on the grounds of secrecy. In 1952, he was convicted of "gross indecency" over a relationship with another man. He was subjected to intrusive surveillance and hormone treatment aimed at suppressing his sex drive.

Turing died in 1954, with a coroner ruling that he had committed suicide. However, that verdict has since been questioned.

The official pardon comes after more than 37,000 people signed an online petition requesting it.

Pardons are normally only granted in Britain when the person is innocent of an offence that was on the statute books at the time of conviction, and where the request is made by someone with a vested interest, such as a family member. The pardon for Turing comes despite neither of these conditions being met.

rc/se (AFP, Reuters, AP)