The head of Britain's digital spy agency has apologized for historic prejudice against gay people while paying tribute to Alan Turing, whom he called the organization's most famous member.
Government Communications Headquarters Director Robert Hannigan said Friday that Turing, who committed suicide at age 41, was famous for breaking secret Nazi war codes and for his "horrifying" treatment by Britain's criminal justice system.
Following his work cracking Germany's Enigma code, which helped end World War II, Turing was convicted on criminal charges for having a personal relationship with another man and was ordered to be chemically castrated. He died in 1954.
In a speech honoring Turing, Hannigan told the Stonewall Workplace Conference, "I am happy to ... say how sorry I am that he and so many others were treated in this way, right up until the 1990s, when the policy was rightly changed."
Turing's life story was told in the 2014 Oscar-winning film "The Imitation Game," starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
Often called the father of the modern computer, Turing led a group of scientists who decoded an encryption device used by the Nazis. They obtained secret messages that enabled the Allies to anticipate German war strategies. He posthumously received on official apology in 2009 from then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and a pardon in 2013 from Queen Elizabeth II.
In his rare public appearance, Hannigan said he was urged to issue the apology on behalf of Britain's GCHQ by a former spy who was forced out of the service in the 1960s while under suspicion of being gay.
Hannigan said the fact such treatment was common practice for decades "reflected the intolerance of the times and pressures of the Cold War, but it does not make it any less wrong."