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Australian infectious diseases expert gives character reference for man guilty of deception charges

ABC News

One of Australia’s pre-eminent scientists who has helped steer the nation through the coronavirus pandemic has told a court that one of her former teachers was an “outstanding” educator, even though he faked his qualifications for decades.

Neil Lennie, 72, has pleaded guilty to four deception charges in the County Court of Victoria after investigators uncovered his scam at some of Melbourne’s most prestigious schools, including Mount Scopus Memorial College, Haileybury College and Caulfield Grammar School.

Between 1976 and 2000, Mr Lennie swindled the schools into thinking that he was a qualified teacher, before eventually taking the job of headmaster at Caulfield Grammar.

But in a pre-sentence hearing today, the County Court heard that the 72-year-old was well-loved by his former students, who now know the truth.

Among them is Sharon Lewin, a leading infectious diseases expert and the director of the Doherty Institute, who credited Mr Lennie with instilling in her an “enduring love of science” in a character reference.

ABC News

Professor Lewin knew Mr Lennie between 1977 and 1979 while she was a student at Mount Scopus Memorial College.

“I remember him very clearly telling me that I was capable of doing anything in life and to shoot for the stars,” she said.

She said he was “one of the most outstanding teachers I had ever had”.

“As a young woman in the 1970s, I now understand that this kind of encouragement for women in science was most unusual,” she said.

Professor Lewin said that she had been asked on many occasions to reflect on teachers or mentors, and had always named Mr Lennie as someone who had a “profound impact” on her career.

“He not only provided me with knowledge to ultimately be the top student in the state of Victoria in physics with a perfect score, but he instilled in me a lifelong love of learning and of science … I couldn’t think of a greater gift from a teacher,” she said.


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