UK to pardon thousands of gay men convicted under defunct laws

October 20, 2016 7:21 AM EDT

A rainbow flag flies with the Union flag above British Cabinet Offices, marking the first day Britain has allowed same sex marriages, in London March 29, 2014. REUTERS/Neil Hall


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By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is to pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of crimes under sexual offense laws which have now been abolished, following on from the 2013 exoneration of celebrated World War Two codebreaker Alan Turing.

Homosexual acts were not decriminalized in England until 1967 and it was not until 2001 that the age of consent for homosexuals was reduced to 16, bringing it into line with the law governing heterosexuals.

Lord John Sharkey, who has been pushing the government to issue pardons, said some 65,000 men had been convicted under the now-repealed laws, of which 15,000 were still alive.

The government said anyone who had been found guilty of consensual homosexual sex would have their names cleared, and for those still living, the offences would be removed from any criminal record checks via a "disregard process".

"It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today," said Justice Minister Sam Gyimah.

The pardon plan has been dubbed "Turing's Law" in reference to the brilliant wartime mathematician who cracked Nazi Germany's "unbreakable" Enigma code.

He was stripped of his job and chemically castrated after being convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for having sex with a man, and killed himself two years later, aged 41.

After years of campaigning by supporters including physicist Stephen Hawking, Turing was granted a rare royal pardon from Queen Elizabeth in 2013.

WHAT ABOUT OSCAR WILDE?

"Alan Turing just so, so deserves this," his niece Rachel Barnes told BBC radio.

"To think that this is the man who cracked the enigma code and saved countless of millions of lives during World War Two and to think of the treatments that he went through at the hands of the government in 1952 is still unbelievable to us."

Another of those prosecuted under the legislation used against Turing was Irish playwright Oscar Wilde in 1895 during a Victorian clampdown on homosexuality. He was sentenced to two years labor.

However, the Guardian newspaper said it was not clear whether Wilde would be included in those pardoned as the Ministry of Justice has said that no new individuals would be named or singled out. No comment from the ministry was immediately available.

One man who was convicted of gross indecency in 1974, said he would not accept a pardon and wanted an apology.

"To accept a pardon means you accept that you were guilty. I was not guilty of anything. I was only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, George Montague told BBC TV.

Lord Sharkey said a pardon was "probably the best way of acknowledging the real harm done by the unjust and cruel homophobic laws".

"I hope that a lot of people will feel exactly the same way," he told BBC radio.

(Editing by Stephen Addison)



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