A 19-year-old barmaid from Southend is starting a 15-year prison sentence today after she was found guilty of not telling a customer that a ‘Coke’ was actually a ‘Pepsi.’

Joanne Thomas, who has been working at The First Pole in Southend Town Centre for seven months, was handed the highest possible sentence at Southend Crown Court by Judge Justice Curtis on Friday morning.

He added that the case would used as ‘an example to anyone who thinks that brand reputation is a trivial matter.’

Police were originally called after the incident in February 2017, with riot cops eventually restoring calm with water cannons and dogs.

Summing up, he added: ‘Forgetting about the mental trauma that the customer would have endured thinking that they were drinking a Coca-Cola branded beverage, it is also clear that your recklessness could have lost Coca-Cola billions in sales.’

‘The law is in place for a reason – what would have happened if the customer had taken a few sips and thought ‘Wow Coca-Cola has gone downhill, hasn’t it?’

‘I will set a sentence of fifteen years imprisonment, with parole only an option after eleven years.’

This is the first sentence passed since the Beverage Integrity Act came into law earlier this year.

Under the new legal guidance, Coke and Pepsi must be clearly designated at all times, and separating multipacks to sell cans and bottles individually will now be a criminal matter.’

In a separate incident last night, a newsagents in North Road, Westcliff was closed for twelve hours while forensic teams carried out a thorough search.

According to a police statement, a customer raised the alarm after drinking Sunny Delight and experiencing ‘pure horror on an unprecedented scale.’