Huge debts

In a statement, the ONS said: "Gross domestic product contracted by 0.2 per cent in the third quarter of 2009. 

"This has been revised from a fall of 0.3 per cent in the previous estimate of GDP, due to upward revisions to construction partly offset by downward revisions to production and services".

The government of Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, which must go to the polls by the summer of next year, has said it believes that the country has returned to growth during the current fourth quarter and that this will be reflected in the next quarterly figures.

Markets must wait for the release of official data in late January to see if this has indeed been the case.

Britain's economy, which is struggling with high unemployment and massive public debt caused by the financial crisis, has contracted for six quarters in a row - its longest recession since records began in 1955.

Denmark announced on Tuesday that it had emerged from recession in the third quarter thanks to its economy growing by 0.6 per cent compared with the preceding three months.