Former Hammers captain Lucas Neill was acquitted of charges suggesting that he had hidden more than £2 million from his creditors last week.
He faced three years of jail time if convicted at his trial in Preston.
The Australian defender, who used to earn a rumoured £40,000 per week at West Ham and earned himself a spot in Australia’s 2010 World Cup squad, had been struggling through seven years of bankruptcy.
The financial struggles were believed to have stemmed from a financial adviser telling the 45-year old to partake in a scheme involving investing into British films. This would be in exchange for a large tax break.
Many of the schemes failed despite being heavily marketed by accountants and financial advisers alike, alongside positive backing from the government surrounding the investment tax relief. This followed on from an investigation by the taxman, and many investors were forced to repay money that they had largely lost.
Neill has opened up on the situation, telling the Times: “People say they want to advise you. Help you. People just constantly want to take a tiny slice out of you. Telling you they’re going to add value to what they’re doing. That’s just a lesson for all footballers. Do you need these professional financial advisers? I was very successful in the world of football, but I clearly wasn’t ready for this other world — the world of business. And I’ve learnt the hard way.”
The Australian recalled being told by HMRC that he owed £400,000, forcing him to sell multiple properties that he had invested in just after the financial crash of 2008, meaning that he had lost money on each and every one of them. That was not even the worst of it.
Neill defaulted on a NatWest loan in 2015 for a barn worth £700,000 near Newcastle upon Tyne, and 144 acres of land alongside it worth £800,000. He planned on transforming them into 14 separate properties when he bought them in 2006, but the default left him with £737,000 after NatWest sold it for £126,000. He was officially declared bankrupt in 2016.
Neill faced meetings with the insolvency services where he has required to list all of his assets following his bankruptcy. This is where the issue leading him to criminal investigation came from: he had not listed the 144 acres of land that he had bought, thinking that it was worthless and even repossessed.
“My head was a mess. I could barely say sentences… I had just written out the whole tragedy of my life, and I was going to face my happy, innocent schoolchildren on a school pick-up — a new school, because we could no longer afford to pay for school fees for their old school.” he revealed. “There were some really humiliating moments. Like at 7.55am on a school morning, my kids answer the door to bailiffs trying to claim a council tax bill for £400.”
Neill has been unable to own a home or possess a mobile phone with a contract for seven years, as the Insolvency Service continued their investigation involving Neill’s bankruptcy – something many are typically released from within 12 months.
The reason that the investigation became so thorough however, was that the repossessed 144 acres was in fact sold for £3 million by a lender, and his offshore trust had received a further £2.1 million following the settlement of the NatWest loan. Despite the Insolvency Service knowing this, Neill did not – and resultant accusations came about claiming that Neill had hidden the money throughout the process of his bankruptcy.
Neill, having now been acquitted of these charges, will search for what has happened to those funds. In the meantime, he has been coaching women and girls at a football club and working as a project manager for a local digital firm.
“I don’t care about fame, or luxury. I just want to survive with my family and that’s it. We have our own definition of happiness,” he said. “It might not be your definition, but it’s mine. Would we be happier with more choice? Of course, but we don’t complain. We’ve got each other.”
Written by Joe Davis