THE Government has launched an attempt to avoid disclosing secret documents relating to Nestlé’s takeover of York confectioner Rowntree’s in 1988.

As reported in The Press last month, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled that the Cabinet Office should release paperwork relating to the takeover, following a request by this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act.

Steve Wood, the ICO’s head of policy delivery, said various factors meant the argument for disclosure outweighed the case against it, and he ordered the Cabinet Office to release five specific documents already seen by the ICO.

The Cabinet Office has now appealed against that ruling, and the matter has been referred to the tribunals office.

The Press first asked for the Cabinet documents in November 2008, but its request under the Freedom of Information Act was rejected, as was a subsequent appeal.

We resubmitted the request in October 2010, after the ICO’s ruling on the Westlands helicopter affair set out circumstances in which Government papers should be released. The Cabinet Office again rejected the request and a second appeal, but the ICO then found in The Press’s favour.

Nestlé’s takeover of Rowntree was hugely controversial, partly because Nestlé was effectively protected by Swiss law from such takeover attempts.

More than 13,500 people signed the then Yorkshire Evening Press’s Hands Off Rowntree coupons, which were sent to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and more than 1,500 Rowntree workers and supporters held a rally outside the Houses of Parliament.

The Cabinet Office had said the publication of the papers could influence how the current and future Governments handle takeovers or mergers in future.