A former Christian Brother has told a court he felt "ashamed and guilty" about his sexual and indecent assault of two boys in the 1970s and 1980s, including one at Goulburn.
Peter Nicholas Lennox, 79, of Cootamundra, made the statement in Downing Centre District Court on Friday before Judge Leonie Flannery.
In November, 2018 he was found guilty of two counts of indecent assault on a male and one of sexual indecent assault on a male under 16 under his authority. They involved two victims.
The first two offences occurred at Manly's Saint Paul's Catholic College from 1974 to 1976 where Lennox was principal, and the latter at Saint Patrick's College, Goulburn, in 1987 while he was a teacher and dormitory master.
Asked by his solicitor Greg Walsh whether he felt "regret or sorrow" for his actions, Mr Lennox replied:
"Yes, terribly so. I feel ashamed, guilty, angry and stupid and I know I'll have the scorn of the community for the rest of my life."
But Crown prosecutor Tarik Abdulhak argued that Lennox had not expressed any remorse, having pleaded not guilty to 12 charges throughout the two-week trial.
He was charged at Cootamundra in November, 2014 following a search of his home. Police said the investigation arose from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and enquiries by Goulburn’s Strikeforce Charish detectives.
In November, 2018 a jury found Lennox not guilty of four charges, including three of indecent assault on a male. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on four counts of indecent assault on a male and one of indecent act on a male.
The NSW Department of Public Prosecutions is applying to re-try these charges, with a call-over set for the Downing District Court on March 1. They relate to offences allegedly committed at Saint Paul's on three boys from 1974 to 1976.
On Friday, under questioning by Mr Abdulhak, Lennox acknowledged that several weeks after the November trial he had told a community corrections officer as part of a pre-sentence report that he felt no remorse for what he'd done. Further, he had told the officer he believed some of the complainants were "only after money."
However, Lennox said while he could not recall ever assaulting boys, in more recent weeks he had accepted the jury's verdict.
"(The complainants) said it under oath so I will have to respect the court's decision," he said.
Earlier, Lennox had likened it to a "grieving process," involving an initial period of rejection and then acceptance of the verdict.
"In truth, is it that you in fact have no remorse and are now hoping for a lenient sentence?" Mr Abdulhak asked.
"No, I feel awful actually," Mr Lennox replied.
Lennox joined the Christian Brothers in 1958 and was appointed principal of St Paul's College, Manly from 1972 to 1977. While there, police alleged he groped the genitals of a 12-year-old boy outside of his pants.
On both occasions Lennox had found the boy standing in the corridor after being sent from his classroom for talking and took him to his office under the guise of punishment. After the touching, which lasted "five to 10 minutes," Lennox had strapped the boy on his hands.
Mr Abdulhak described this as a "calculated, callous and brazen act" committed on a "crying and frightened child."
"It was a gross abuse of trust," he said.
By 1987, Lennox was teaching at the all boys Saint Patrick's College, Goulburn. He also oversaw boarders as a dormitory master. In second term of that year, a 15-year-old boy sought treatment from him for a tinea infection in his groin area. Police said Lennox told him he couldn't give him the cream, as requested.
"You know the rules, you want the cream, I put it on," Lennox reportedly said.
The boy declined but after several weeks when the condition didn't improve as he had hoped, he returned to Lennox, who offered to apply the cream in his (Lennox's) bedroom.
The boy removed his towel from his waist and put his right foot on the chair as requested, police facts stated. The complainant alleged Lennox grabbed the boy's right thigh with his left hand and wrapped his fingers and thumb around the student's penis.
The victim told police he stepped back in shock, called Lennox "a poofter" and left the room.
The following day the boy spoke to the school nurse who gave him the cream.
In court, after a victim impact statement was read in a closed session on behalf of one of the complainants, Mr Lennox said he "felt terribly ashamed."
"I know I'll have the scorn of the community for the rest of my life."Peter Lennox
Mr Walsh told the court his client was a very sick man.
In testimony, Lennox said he'd undergone a double heart bypass, a hip replacement, had a pacemaker, suffered diabetes, incontinence and depression. The latter had plagued him since 1983 when he had been unable to save a drowning student at the Wollongong school at which he was teaching.
"It almost killed me and I couldn't cope with any responsibility after that," he said.
Mr Walsh asked Judge Flannery to consider Lennox's physical and mental health, the fact he had not re-offended since and a psychiatrist's report.
Mr Walsh said his client's delayed acceptance of the verdict was related more to his "cognition problem" than anything else and he should not be penalised for his original not guilty plea.
"At least he went into the witness box (this morning) and conveyed to the court his terrible sense of guilt and it's my submission that it warrants some consideration (in sentencing)," he said.
Mr Walsh argued that the offences, while serious and having an impact on victims, were at the lower end of the scale.
He acknowledged a deep breach of trust but said the assaults were not obtrusive, were brief in duration, did not involve pornography and were not done for sexual gratification. Moreover, while the strapping could be considered an "aggravating feature," corporal punishment was used at the time.
Mr Walsh said Lennox was not the man he was at the time of the offences, had led a "monastic life" despite leaving the Christian Brothers in 1994, and had embarked on "decades of rehabilitation."
"Here we have a very aged man in poor physical and mental health and it's my submission that it won't serve any community good to send him to prison," he said.
But Mr Abdulhak said jail was the only appropriate sentence.
He described the actions as a "grave and egregious breach of trust" by a man given the highest responsibility to protect children, not indecently assault them.
He was critical of the lengthy legal process. Three trial dates had been were vacated since 2014 due to Lennox's stated ill-health.
But he argued doctors had found him fit to stand trial and none of his health issues impeded his ability to give evidence.
Mr Abdulhak said Lennox was able to give very detailed accounts of his time and work at both schools.
"So I submit that his cognition can be put to one side," he said.
He said the three offences were "well above the mid-range" in terms of seriousness, involved calculation, planning and persistence and lasted for some time.
In regard to the Saint Patrick’s boy, Mr Abdulhak said it was “skin on skin” touching. Lennox had initially denied him treatment in an effort to get him alone, he argued.
“I submit it’s not the case the touching was only for a short time, just that the victim fled,” he said.
Mr Abdulhak told the judge that general deterrence must be uppermost in sentencing and cited numerous case law in which prison terms were imposed for similar offences. He argued the fact he hadn’t re-offended did not reduce the seriousness of the crimes.
“(Mr Walsh) says he has expressed remorse but I submit Your Honour could be guarded at best in finding it is genuine remorse,” he said.
“...My friend (Mr Walsh) also submits there was no evidence the offences were committed for sexual gratification...(but) what other possible explanation is there to take a boy aside and fondle his genitals? It can only be for gratification.”
While jail would be difficult for a man of his age, Mr Abdulhak said it was the only appropriate response.
Judge Flannery adjourned sentencing to Downing Centre District Court to March 29. She continued his bail.
“You are not to assume you’re not going to jail because I have continued bail,” she told Lennox.
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