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News Corp. Security Head Told Colleague He Dug Hole and Set Fire

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News of the World
A visitor enters the main entrance to the headquarters of News International Newspapers Ltd, a subsidiary of News Corp. at Wapping in London, U.K., on Friday, July 8, 2011. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- News Corp.’s U.K. head of security told a colleague he had dug a hole and “burnt stuff” as the News of the World tabloid was closed amid the phone-hacking scandal, the former co-worker told a London court.

Robert Hernandez, a security contractor at the company’s London headquarters, said Mark Hanna told him he “had dug a hole in his garden and burnt stuff” over a bottle of wine the evening before the tabloid published its last issue in July 2011. Hanna, on trial for his alleged role in the destruction of evidence, didn’t go into anymore detail about what was burned, Hernandez said.

Rebekah Brooks, the former head of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, was arrested on July 17, 2011, as police officers moved in to gather material from her apartment. News Corp. employed a team of security agents to protect Brooks as public anger mounted over revelations that the now-defunct News of the World tabloid had intercepted the voice-mail messages of a murdered teenager.

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World July 10, 2011, after its final issue in a bid to defuse the growing scandal.

Prosecutors say Brooks, her husband, Charlie, her personal assistant and Hanna, conspired to hide evidence at the height of the phone-hacking scandal. The 45-year-old Brooks and other former News Corp. journalists are accused of intercepting voice-mail messages and bribing public officials for stories.

Brooks’s Garage

Earlier in the trial, the jury was shown closed-circuit television footage of Hanna in the garage below the Brooks’s apartment in London. He was shown getting into his car with a brown leather bag and padded envelope and driving off less than an hour before police arrived for the search while Brooks was being questioned at a police station.

The security measures were necessary because of the hate mail sent to Brooks and other senior News Corp. executives, Hanna’s lawyer, William Clegg, said today.

“Some of it disgusting, some of it threatening, and all of it ill-informed,” Clegg said.

One piece of mail said Murdoch, his son James, a former U.K. executive of the company, and Brooks were “self-serving, hypocritical liars” and that “rotting in hell” was too good for them.

Hernandez said that Hanna didn’t didn’t give any more details when asked if he had burned papers.

“He just looked at me and didn’t reply and just changed the conversation,” Hernandez said.

Clegg said Hernandez’s testimony left too many unanswered questions.

“So it was a fire in his garden, we know not where, we know not when and we know not what,” Clegg said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeremy Hodges in London at jhodges17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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