Wednesday 26 September 2018

Conviction overturned - Wilde among thousands of gay men finally cleared

Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde

Thousands of men convicted under now-abolished anti-homosexuality laws in Britain have been pardoned posthumously under new legislation.

They include famous Irish author and wit Oscar Wilde, who was convicted and sentenced to two years' hard labour after he was found guilty of "gross indecency" in 1895.

Announcing the new law, the UK's Ministry of Justice said the pardons apply automatically to deceased men who were convicted for consensual same-sex relations before homosexuality was decriminalised several decades ago.

"This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs," Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said.

Calls for a general pardon have noted the 1954 suicide of World War II codebreaking hero Alan Turing after his conviction for "gross indecency".

After he received a posthumous royal pardon in 2013, pressure for pardons intensified.

Turing, a computer science pioneer, helped crack Nazi Germany's secret codes by creating the "Turing bombe", a forerunner of modern computers that helped shorten the war.

After the war, Turing was prosecuted for having sex with a man, stripped of his security clearance and forcibly treated with female hormones. He died at age 41 after eating an apple laced with cyanide.

Wilde was jailed in 1895 after he took a criminal libel action against the Marquess of Queensberry.

The Marquess was the father of Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. After the trial unearthed evidence that caused Wilde to drop his action, he was arrested and stood trial for gross indecency with men. He died destitute in Paris in 1900.

Wilde's story is told in today's Herald Icons of Dublin series.

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