The British economy has officially sunk into recession, with government figures Friday showing the economy shrank 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, showing that the economy is contracting at its fastest pace in almost 30 years.

The Office for National Statistics said the economy contracted by 1.8 percent compared with a year ago.

Economists had predicted a 1.2 percent drop, according to a Bloomberg News survey. The economy has now shrunk in two quarters, the accepted definition of a recession.

For 2008 as a whole, GDP rose by 0.7 percent, down on the 3.0 percent growth in 2007, and the lowest level of growth since 1992's 0.1 percent.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown went on BBC radio and commented on the latest figures, but did not offer an opinion on how long he thinks the recession may last.

It depends on the degree of international cooperation, Brown said.

Within the service sector --which accounts for three-quarters of economic output -- shrank by 1.0 percent in the fourth quarter, the fastest pace since 1979.

Manufacturing output fell by 4.6 percent in the fourth quarter. The broader measure of production, which includes power generation, fell by 3.9 percent in the quarter, the biggest fall since 1980.

The last time the economy shrank so fast in a three-month period was in 1980 under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.