This film is part of Free

Jeremy Thorpe and Peter Bessell 1964-1967

The 1964 election of Liberal MPs in the South West is celebrated but beneath there is another side to the high level affairs of the Liberal Party.

News 1964 15 mins

From the collection of:

Logo for South West Film and Television Archive


Jeremy Thorpe is elected to the House of Commons as member for North Devon in 1959 and serves as Leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976. Here we see Thorpe campaigning in 1964 and fellow member of the Liberal Party Peter Bessell who becomes MP for Bodmin. Both are to become embroiled in a scandal in the 1970s when Norman Scott accuses Jeremy Thorpe of being his lover in the early 1960s. Bessell stands down at the 1970 election and Thorpe goes on to stand trial in 1979.

Homosexuality is considered illegal before 1967 making the allegations against Thorpe even more scandalous to the general public. A curious incident involving the shooting of Norman Scott’s dog at Porlock Hill on Exmoor by Andrew Newton in 1975 leads to the 1979 trial at the Old Bailey but amid theories of police suppression of evidence and judicial bias Jeremy Thorpe is one of four people acquitted. The press has a field day. Bessell turns witness for the prosecution but pre-sells his story to the newspapers leading the judge to label Bessell’s statements “a tissue of lies”. Homosexuality is decriminalised after the 1957 Wolfenden Report leads to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967.