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Health cost of the fight to retire with pride

When he feels well enough to go out, Robert Pepper can tell people proudly he is a "retired headteacher". Two months ago he had to say he had been sacked.

He was dismissed by the rural Cornish primary school he had run for 13 years because he had been off work for a year with depression. An active man he found the stresses of work suddenly overwhelmed him when he was laid up with a broken collarbone in a football coaching accident.

"I was the one cheering up other people," he said. "I thought I was doing enough to break away from the stresses of work - I had hobbies, I had a social life. But it just overtook me very suddenly."

He was denied ill-health retirement twice because pensions agency advisers argued he might recover. Yet Department for Social Security doctors said he would never teach again - though they stopped his incapacity benefit because he could still stack shelves, leaving him with no income.

Now, after intervention by his MP and a successful appeal through the National Association of Headteachers - with the Department of Social Security report as a clinching piece of evidence - Mr Pepper, 52, can draw a line under his 32-year career with what he feels is "an honourable departure".

But he remains bitter at the time it has taken. "There is no doubt in my mind that my illness became more serious and I sunk to a lower level, and my recovery will take that much longer because of it."

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