Mr Heseltine - broadening Tory accusations of "Labour hypocrisy" from education to law and order - sparked Opposition outrage by declaring that Tony Blair's party was "on the side of the villain".
Mr Brown immediately challenged the Deputy Prime Minister to withdraw his "preposterous" remark, and accused the Conservative Party of sinking to a new low in "smears" and "dirty tricks".
The Labour Deputy Leader, John Prescott, campaigning in Hemsworth, said: "It proves what Labour has always said - that the Tories intend to fight the dirtiest general election campaign ever."
The Deputy Prime Minister levelled his latest charge in a radio interview, in which he stressed that the Tories would spearhead a "very positive" election campaign which would emphasise improving economic prospects.
He told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "There are very positive aspects. We have the most successful economy in western Europe, we have had unemployment falling for 28 months."
But training his fire on Labour's "hypocrisy on crime" Mr Heseltine said: "Labour today is saying it wants to be tough on crime, but it votes against all the things the Conservatives have done to achieve one of the fastest- falling crime rates we have seen in this country for many years.
"Labour traditionally is on the side of the villain, whereas the Tories are on the side of the victim.
"When we have introduced tougher sentencing, have questioned the right to silence, have increased maximum sentences - every time, Labour votes against these things.
"The fact is, we have now got more people in prison, we have got more prisons being built, we have got more policemen on the beat."
However, Mr Brown hit back, by saying: "All decent-minded people will be horrified that instead of addressing the country's problems with health, education and employment, Mr Heseltine and the Conservatives are descending into personalised attacks, smears and dirty tricks.Reuse content