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LONDON, Jan 25 AFP

January 26 2013, 02:04AM

Britain's economy shrank 0.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2012 and recorded zero growth for the year as a whole, official data revealed on Friday, placing the country on the brink of a "triple dip" recession.

British finance minister George Osborne said he was "determined to confront" the economic problems facing the country, which he claimed had been hit hard by the high debt inherited by the government and owing to eurozone strains.

"After growth of 0.9 per cent in third quarter, the economy contracted by 0.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2012," the Office for National Statistics said in a statement, adding that gross domestic product growth was flat over the year.

"GDP is estimated to have been flat between 2011 and 2012," the ONS said.

Should Britain's economy shrink also in the current first quarter, then the country will enter its third recession since the 2008 global financial crisis.

"Given that a technical recession requires two consecutive quarters of falling output, this is arguably not a true 'triple-dip' yet," noted Vicky Redwood, chief UK economist at the Capital Economics research group.

"But there are no hard and fast definitions, and another contraction in Q1 is quite possible anyway, especially given the snow disruption."

Britain was hammered in particular by a 1.8 per cent contraction in its production and manufacturing sector.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Osborne said the latest data was "a reminder today that Britain faces a very difficult economic situation."

He added: "A reminder that last year was particularly difficult, that we face problems at home because of the debts built up over many years and problems abroad with the eurozone, where we export most of our products, in recession.

"Now, we can either run away from those problems or we can confront them and I am determined to confront them so that we can go on creating jobs for the people of this country," Osborne said in a statement.

Britain is not a member of the eurozone but has been affected by the neighbouring bloc's ongoing financial crisis.

Activity has been hit hard also by deficit-slashing austerity measures from the nation's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

By Ben Perry