A pub landlord is facing a court bill of more than £2,500 after a snap inspection found an inferior brand of vodka inside a Smirnoff bottle behind his bar.

Magistrates heard that Gary Richard Sharples, 49, had just returned from a much needed three week break running the King's Hotel in Bridge Street, Appleby, when a Cumbria County Council Trading Standards official visited his pub.

All of the spirits being sold were genuine - except for the vodka bottle that was put behind the bar without his permission or knowledge, the court heard.

Sharples - who has had an unblemished 25 year career in pub trade - admitted two offences under the Food Safety Act: one of offering for sale a vodka which falsely claimed to be Smirnoff; and one of selling vodka with a misleading label about its alcohol content.

Jonathan Farnsworth, prosecuting, said genuine Smirnoff has an alcohol content of 37.5 per cent, while the vodka found in the Smirnoff bottle at the King's Head Hotel had an alcohol content of only 31.7 per cent.

"Trading Standards has a responsibility to make sure that consumers are getting what they pay for," said the lawyer.

He added that there was no problem with all the other spirits tested at the pub on the day of the inspection, March 16 last year. Furthermore, a return visit two weeks later confirmed that all the spirits were genuine and as advertised.

In a letter to the court, Sharples said his wife had been suffering stress and depression after they had worked hard together over two years to build up their business from scratch.

They had taken a three week break and the inspection happened on the day that they returned.

While they were away, he said, they had left two new managers in charge.

Before leaving, they had bought stock from another pub, and it included a bottle of Smirnoff Vodka which was left in the cellar.

This was brought up to the bar after all the remaining Smirnoff vodka there had sold out.

"I had no knowledge or information that there would be another substance in the bottle other than Smirnoff," he said, adding that the prosecution had left him shaken and upset.

He offered his sincere apologies for his lack of vigilance.

Magistrates imposed a one year conditional discharge - the lowest available sanction to the court.

But they ruled that Sharples should pay the £2,587 cost of the prosecution as well as a victim surcharge of £20. It was the first time Sharples had ever been before a court.

The prosecution involved only the one bottle of vodka.