|Member of Parliament|
15 October 1964 – 18 June 1970
|Preceded by||Douglas Marshall|
|Succeeded by||Robert Hicks|
Peter Joseph Bessell
24 August 1921
|Died||27 November 1985 (aged 64)|
|Spouse(s)||Joyce Margaret Thomas, Pauline Colledge & Diane Miller|
|Alma mater||Lynwyd School|
Bessell was educated at Lynwyd School, Bath, Somerset, and was a Congregational 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.
In the 1960s Peter Bessell was a member of Mebyon Kernow as well as the Liberal Party. 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 more than 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. In 1970, he opened a finance brokerage on Fifth Avenue in New York and continued this business, both in London and New York, until early 1974 when the businesses collapsed and he moved to California. For most of the 1970s, Bessell was under threat of prosecution for fraud allegations relating to several of these companies, although he was subsequently successful in reaching agreement with all his creditors.
In order to appear at the 1979 Jeremy Thorpe trial in London, Bessell was offered and acquired immunity from prosecution for previous debts, although he offered to waive this. For his last 15 years he lived with his wife by a beach on the Pacific coast of California, where they ran a successful holiday rental business.
He was a prosecution witness at the trial of Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe for the attempted murder of Norman Scott in 1979, the Thorpe affair, when he returned to Britain to testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution. His evidence was controversially referred to by the judge Mr Justice Cantley, in his summing up, as "a tissue of lies"; as a key meeting concerning the conspiracy to murder occurred in varied locations in his statements.
Bessell revealed under questioning that he had signed a contract with The Sunday Telegraph for the serialisation rights of his memoirs, and that his fee (£25,000) would double were Thorpe to be convicted. Before the trial he had been paid a third of the £50,000 full fee, and stood to gain only another £8,000 if Thorpe were to be acquitted. George Carman, Thorpe's lawyer, made much of this, and asked Bessell if he had ever used any medication; Bessell admitted to regular use of sleeping pills. Bessell admitted to his having "a credibility problem" and being a compulsive liar.
The judge's summing-up to the jury just before their deliberations emphasised Thorpe's distinguished public record,[incomplete short citation] but he was scathing about all the principal prosecution witnesses: Bessell was a "humbug",[incomplete short citation] Scott a fraud, a sponger, a whiner, a parasite—"but of course he could still be telling the truth."[incomplete short citation] Newton was "determined to milk the case as hard as he can."[incomplete short citation]. This rather unusual summing-up was almost immediately heavily lampooned for what some perceived as a marked bias in Peter Cook's 1979 spoken-word comedy LP "Here Comes the Judge"; some[who?] saw it as part of an establishment conspiracy. On 20 June the jury retired; they returned two days later and acquitted the four defendants on all charges. In a televised statement and celebration of the outcome, Thorpe said that he considered the verdict "a complete vindication."[incomplete short citation] Scott said he was "unsurprised" by the outcome, but was upset by the aspersions on his character made by the judge from the safety of the bench.[incomplete short citation]
After the trial Bessell published a privately printed memoir, Cover-Up (1981), setting out his version of the Thorpe scandal and his involvement.
A lifelong chain smoker, he died in 1985 of emphysema. He married three times: Joyce Margaret Thomas (1943–49), who died prematurely from tuberculosis; and Pauline Colledge, whom he divorced in 1978 to marry Diane Miller, his long-term mistress.
- "Political Science Resources: politics and government in the UK and the USA". keele.ac.uk.
- Obituary, The Times, Thursday, 28 November 1985, p.14; Issue 62307; col G
- Mebyon Kernow - The Party for Cornwall. "Mebyon Kernow - The Party for Cornwall". mebyonkernow.org.[failed verification]
- "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
- Waugh 1980, p. 217.
- Waugh 1980, pp. 220–21.
- Bloch 2014, p. 539.
- Waugh 1980, pp. 225–27.
- Bloch 2014, p. 543.
- Chester 1979, p. 369.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Peter Bessell
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
Sir Douglas Marshall
| Member of Parliament for Bodmin