Stars throw support behind ‘outstanding’ fake principal
One of Australia's most acclaimed scientists and a famous TV actor have thrown their support behind a fake headmaster who conned his way into Melbourne's top private schools during a four-decade career.
Neil Lennie, 72, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud after he admitted he gained lofty teaching positions at four schools, including the prestigious Caulfield Grammar, Mt Scopus, Haileybury and Overnewton College off the back of a phony resume.
Prosecutors argued it does not matter whether Lennie was a good teacher or not - his deception breached the trust of the educational system and he should face jail.
Between 1976 and 2000, Lennie falsely stated he had graduated from Melbourne University, RMIT and Deakin University, gaining degrees in maths, science and Arts as well as an all-important teaching registration.
In reality, the former teacher and deputy principal had enrolled in several universities courses but never completed a single degree and stole his father's registration to gain access to Melbourne classrooms and almost $850,000 in salary.
Top silk Ian Hill QC, for Lennie, said the former Caulfield Grammar headmaster was a teacher of the "highest quality" and had made a "profound" impact on his student during his teaching career.
Doherty Institute director Professor Sharon Lewin AO, and Frontline actor Pip Mushin were among more than a dozen former students and colleagues who provided character references for the admitted fraudster.
Prof Lewin said Lennie was "one of the most outstanding teachers (she) ever had".
"I remember him very clearly telling me I was capable of doing anything in life and to shoot for the stars,"
"He instilled in me a lifelong love of learning and of science," she said.
Mr Mushin said he was inspired as a young actor by Lennie and still remembers his early guidance after almost 25 years in the industry.
Mr Hill argued Lennie should not be jailed given his old age, early guilty plea and "deep regret" for his deception.
Crown Prosecutor John Dickie said Lennie's offending was "calculated and planned" and motivated by a sense of entitlement.
Judge Patricia Riddell said it was "a difficult lie to un-tell".
Mr Dickie responded: "There is a point where someone can stop".
Prosecutors also sought an order for Lennie to repay the more than $843,567 he received in salary.
Judge Riddell will hand down her decision on the pecuniary penalty order and her sentence at a later date.
Originally published as Stars throw support behind 'outstanding' fake principal