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 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 5th 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 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 the beach on the Pacific coast of California where they ran a successful holiday let 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 admitted to "a credibility problem", the Judge's summing up was itself the focus of doubt and some ridicule as shown during a performance of The Secret Policeman's Ball by Peter Cook. 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 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.
- "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