A former and much-lauded headmaster who lied about his qualifications and faked his way through a 24-year teaching career has been spared jail.
Neil Lennie dropped out of university and used his father’s legitimate teacher registration in Victoria between 1976 and 2000.
He taught at some of Melbourne’s most prestigious schools, including Mount Scopus Memorial College, Haileybury College and Overnewton Anglican Community College.
Lennie also spent years as a headmaster at Caulfield Grammar School through the 1980s and 1990s.
The 73-year-old was spared jail in Victoria’s County Court today, after he admitted obtaining $843,567 in renumeration by deception.
Instead, he was handed a suspended three-month sentence and year-long community correction order.
Judge Patrica Riddell said Lennie’s case was unique among fraud cases.
While his lies were premeditated, deliberate and rather brazen, Judge Riddell said Lennie caused no harm to and in fact greatly enriched the schools at which he taught.
Former students “speak of you with one voice as one of the most outstanding and influential teachers they were fortunate to have”, the judge said.
She rejected prosecutors’ arguments Lennie was motivated by personal benefit, ego or beating other teachers to jobs.
“You did see teaching as a vocation, a calling,” Judge Riddell said, adding COVID-19 showed the hard work of teachers had long been undervalued.
“It would be difficult to find any teacher who enters that position because of greed.”
One of Lennie’s students from Mount Scopus became a leading infectious diseases expert and an inaugural director at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity.
“I often credit Mr Lennie with my enduring love of science, pursuit of academic excellence and self-belief in my own capabilities in science,” Sharon Lewin AO wrote in a letter to the court.
“I remember him very clearly telling me that I was capable of doing anything in life and to shoot for the stars.
“As a young woman in the 1970s, I now understand that this kind of encouragement for women in science was most unusual.”
Judge Riddell noted none of Lennie’s employers sought to verify his qualifications.
His registration was cancelled in 2009 after the Victorian Institute of Teaching discovered discrepancies in his records.
The institute in 2014 charged him over another role as headmaster at a different school, again without qualification.
He was fined $8,000 and in 2015 referred to police for possible criminal charges, which were laid in May 2020.
Judge Riddell said there had been almost no attempt to explain the lengthy delay by authorities.
She also cited intense media scrutiny on Lennie’s case, and the public disgrace and scorn suffered.