ROWNTREE directors were “dismayed” when a national newspaper suggested they were viewed by Downing Street as a ‘lot of pinkos’, a Government memo obtained by The Press shows.

A memo from Nigel Wicks, private secretary at Number 10, said he had spoken to Sir Michael Franklin, a Rowntree director, about an article by Jeremy Warner in The Independent.

The memo has been released to The Press as part of a bundle of papers, following a five-year Freedom of Information battle.

It reads: “Sir Michael said there had been some dismay in Rowntree when they had read the comment that: ‘One source close to Downing Street thinking described the company as ‘just a lot of pinkos.’’

He continued: “Sir Michael went on to say that that sort of comment derived, no doubt, from the activities of certain charitable trusts which had been established by members of the Rowntree family. But those trusts were quite independent of the company.”

The word ‘pinko’ is a derogatory term for someone on the left wing politically.

Mr Wicks said he had told Sir Michael he was as certain as he could be that no such comment had emanated from Number 10.

“The Prime Minister’s (Margaret Thatcher) first rule was not to get involved in takeover matters and to direct all inquiries to the Department of Trade and Industry. I was certain that she would take that line with this particular inquiry and would not wish to intervene. Sir Michael expressed himself relieved.”

Another memo from Mr Wicks was to the Prime Minister, to say Lord Young was concerned about a report in the Financial Times concering a speech by Sir Geoffrey Howe on merger policy.

He said Sir Geoffrey’s comments had been more innocuous than the FT suggested, but he suggested he should write to Ministers saying the Prime Minister thought it important they did not make comments which could be construed as expressing a view on any particular merger, in advance of his decision on referral.

A letter subsequently went out along these lines, adding that Mrs Thatcher had been questioned in the House about the interest of Swiss companies in Rowntree and had refused to be drawn.