Britain's spy agency apologises for treatment of gays that led to suicide of 'father of computing' Alan Turing

LONDON (Reuters) - The head of Britain's security agency GCHQ has apologised for its ban on homosexuals that led to the dismissal and subsequent suicide of one of its most brilliant code breakers, Alan Turing, in the 1950s.

Mr Robert Hannigan told a gay rights workplace conference in London that Turing had been an example to others because he was not afraid to think "differently and radically", according to a statement released by GCHQ.

"(I want to) say how sorry I am that he and so many others were treated in this way," Mr Hannigan said. "Their suffering was our loss."

GCHQ's ban on homosexuals was only lifted in the 1990s.

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is one of three intelligence and security agencies in Britain, along with MI5, the domestic spy agency and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), which gathers intelligence from abroad.

The agencies had historically seen homosexuals as a security risk, considering them much more vulnerable to blackmail.

In an illustration of how far attitudes to homosexuality in Britain have changed, earlier this year MI5 was rated the country's most gay-friendly employer. Just six years ago it had ranked at 134th in the index.

Mr Hannigan paid homage to Turing, subject of the film The Imitation Game, for his mathematical genius which cracked a German code and shortened World War II. He also created the world's first digital computer.

Turing was dismissed in the 1950s, prosecuted for his sexuality and chemically castrated. He killed himself in 1954.

"To do our job, which is solving some of the hardest technology problems the world faces for security reasons, we need all talents and we need people who dare to think differently and be different," Mr Hannigan said.

"We need different backgrounds, experiences, intellects, sexualities, because it is in mixing all of those together that you get the creativity and innovation we desperately need."