He was educated at Lynwyd School, Bath, Somerset, and was a Methodist lay preacher from 1939 to 1970. He first stood for parliament as a Liberal in Torquay in both the 1955 general election, and the by-election there later that year.
At the 1959 general election, he was the Liberal candidate in the Bodmin constituency, but lost to the sitting Conservative MP Sir Douglas Marshall. He stood again at the 1964 general election, defeating Marshall with a majority of over 3,000. He held the seat at the 1966 general election, despite a strong challenge from the Conservative John Gorst.
Bessell did not contest the 1970 general election, when the Liberal candidate Paul Tyler lost Bodmin to the Conservative Robert Hicks. Meanwhile, in 1970, Bessell fled to the United States in an attempt to escape from the debts incurred by numerous unsuccessful companies, which had necessitated his standing down from parliament. For most of the 1970s, Bessell was under threat of prosecution for fraud allegations relating to several of these companies, although the 1979 Thorpe trial meant that he acquired immunity from prosecution. In an effort to pay off his crippling business debts, he lived modestly for his last 15 years, in a small one-room beach hut in California.
He was a prosecution witness at the trial of Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe for the attempted murder of Norman Scott in 1979, the Rinkagate case, when he returned to Britain to testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution. His evidence according to the judge, Mr. Justice Cantley, was "a tissue of lies"; a key meeting concerning the conspiracy to murder occurred in varied locations in his statements. Bessell admitted to "a credibility problem" and was known as a fantasist. In particular, Bessell's evidence was considered unreliable because he had signed a contract with The Sunday Telegraph for the serialisation rights of his memoirs where the full fee would double if Thorpe was convicted. Before the trial he had been paid a third of the £50,000 full fee, and stood to gain only another £8,000 on Thorpe's acquittal. After the trial, Bessell published a privately printed memoir, Cover-Up (1981), setting out his version of the Thorpe scandal, listing his own numerous extra-marital affairs, and portraying his business career as a successful one.
A lifelong chain smoker, he died in 1985 of emphysema. He married three times: Joyce Margaret Thomas (1943-9), who died prematurely; and Pauline Colledge, whom he divorced in 1978 to marry Diane Miller, his long-term mistress.
- UK General Elections since 1832 by Keele University
- Obituary, The Times, Thursday, 28 November 1985, p.14; Issue 62307; col G
- Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman Rinkagate, Bloomsbury, 1996
- Mebyon Kernow history
- "Peter Bessell, Witness In '79 British Scandal", The New York Times, 28 November 1985
- Matthew Parris and Kevin Maguire Great Parliamentary Scandals, Robson Books, 1995 , p.223, 214
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Peter Bessell
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
Sir Douglas Marshall
|Member of Parliament for Bodmin