British industrial output fell much more than expected in May, official data show today, raising the possibility that the economy came to a near standstill in the second quarter.

The Office for National Statistics said industrial production fell 0.8% on the month, well below analysts' expectations of a 0.1% decline. That left output 1.6% lower than a year ago - the biggest decline since December 2005.

The contraction was driven by a much sharper than expected decline in manufacturing output, which fell 0.5% on the month and was down 0.8% on the year. Analysts had predicted a 0.1% fall on the month.

The ONS said record high temperatures in May had pushed electricity, gas and water output down by 5.2% - the  biggest fall since October 2001 - adding to weakness in the broader industrial production measure.

Economic growth slowed to just 0.3% on the quarter in the first three months of the year and second quarter growth is now likely to weaken further.

More up-to-date surveys have already been showing a contraction, raising fears that the economy could plunge into a  recession. However, policymakers are also having to contend with rising inflation and no change in interest rates is expected this week.