A couple applying to become foster parents have been told by council bosses that they will be barred from doing so due to a twice-yearly cigar habit.

Under strict Essex council rules smokers are not permitted to foster children, even if they have since given up the habit. Paul Baker and his wife Clare were 10 months into applying for permission to foster when they were given the news.

Baker admitted to smoking at a work party and a wedding in the space of 12 months, and was told that this qualified him as a smoker, despite the backing of the family's GP. “I regret saying I had a cigar, but honest is how I have always been.” he said.

“My dad was adopted at 18 months, so fostering or adopting was something I always wanted to do. We are devastated, but frustrated too.” said Clare Baker.

"Essex County Council has a policy of not placing children under five with foster parents who smoke to ensure the health and wellbeing of children" a spokeswoman for Essex council said.

"If there is a smoker in the family, they are asked to consider fostering children over five."