Retailer Marks & Spencer has revealed a bigger-than-expected drop in clothing sales over Christmas.

In a trading update - which was released earlier than expected - the company said that non-food sales at the retailer were down 3.8%, in the 13 weeks to December 29.

This pushed overall like-for-like UK sales down 1.8%. The figures were worse than expected, with most analysts predicting a 1.5% like-for-like decline in general merchandise sales.

CEO Marc Bolland admitted the general merchandise business was "not yet satisfactory". But he said he was confident in the steps being taken by the new team, including tighter stock management, with a focus on full price sales.

The results come in contrast to other retail giants Next and John Lewis which both reported strong sales growth over the Christmas period.

The results will put more pressure on Mr Bolland, who took over as chief executive in 2010.

But the group produced a better-than-expected performance in its food business, where sales were up 0.3% on a like-for-like basis.

The group said the launch of over 700 new products had helped it to achieve record sales of almost £330m in the two key Christmas trading weeks.

It said its free next day store collection initiative helped push online sales up 10.8% in the period, with sales from mobile phones and tablet computers up 90%. The group said it was cautious about the year ahead and it expected to see continued pressure on consumers' disposable incomes.

It added that international sales overall were hit by continued macro-economic weakness in Ireland and Greece.

M&S's trading statement had been due this morning. But Sky News began reporting the figures last night.

M&S chief executive Marc Bolland said he had been advised by the company's lawyers, brokers and PR advisers that he should put the results out yesterday evening, almost 12 hours early.

He said they were concerned about how they would answer media enquiries on the back of the leak to Sky, in the absence of putting out a full statement.