A pensioner has been branded "a bigoted woman" by Prime Minister Gordon Brown after she tackled him on immigration, benefits, the national debt and tax policy.

The Premier's unguarded comments came as he left a campaign visit in Rochdale, where Gillian Duffy had approached him in the street to ask her questions.

As he sped away with a radio microphone still attached to him, he told an aide: "That was a disaster - they should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? It's just ridiculous." Asked what she had said, he replied: "Everything, she was just a bigoted woman."

Mr Brown later used a radio interview to apologise publicly to grandmother Mrs Duffy for his comments, saying: "I do apologise if I have said anything that has been hurtful and I will apologise to her personally." He telephoned her after the interview, to make good on his promise, according to a spokesman for the Premier.

Gordon Brown on the Jeremy Vine show following the incident

Mrs Duffy, 65, approached Mr Brown as he prepared to leave what should have been a routine visit to a community payback scheme. She tackled him on a series of issues including the national debt, taxes, student financing and immigration.

During their apparently good-natured exchange in the street, Mrs Duffy told the Prime Minister: "You can't say anything about immigrants." She added: "All these eastern Europeans - where are they coming from?" Mr Brown told her a million people had come from Europe but another million Britons had moved the other way.

Mrs Duffy also complained about people on benefits. "There are too many who aren't vulnerable and they can claim, and people who are vulnerable can't get claims - can't get it," she said. Mr Brown replied: "But they shouldn't be doing that. There is no life on the dole for people any more."

Daily Echo: Click below to see a video of today's headlines in sixty seconds

As he went to get into his car, the Prime Minister told her: "Very nice to meet you, very nice to meet you." But seconds after his limousine's doors slammed shut, he made his unguarded comments.

Mrs Duffy, who has a daughter and two grandchildren, told reporters she used to work with handicapped children for Rochdale council before she retired. Her husband, who was a painter and decorator, died of cancer four years ago. Before she was aware of the Premier's remarks about her, she told reporters she was a lifelong Labour voter and said of Mr Brown: "He was very nice."

After being played the Prime Minister's comments, Mrs Duffy said she was "very disappointed", adding it was "very upsetting". She went on: "He's an educated person, why has he come out with words like that? "He's supposed to lead this country and he's calling an ordinary woman who's just come up and asked questions what most people would ask him... he's calling me a bigot." She said she would not now be voting in the General Election.