Witness describes murder accused‘s behaviour

Red Fox Tavern publican Chris Bush who was fatally shot in October 1987. Photo: Supplied / NZ Police

One of the men on trial over the shooting and robbery at the Red Fox Tavern more than 30 years ago, practised firing a gun at the vineyard where he'd been staying, a jury has heard.

Forty-three-year-old Chris Bush was gunned down at the pub in Maramarua, northern Waikato, on the Saturday night of Labour weekend 1987, and the offenders took off with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, coins and cheques.

Tauranga Mark Hoggart and another man, who can't be named, are on trial in the High Court at Auckland, charged with murder and aggravated robbery.

They deny any involvement in the crime and say the police arrested the wrong men.

A witness - whose name is suppressed - told the court the defendant who can't be named had been staying with him at a vineyard in Napier after his release from prison in 1987.

The jury heard last week that the unnamed defendant had been jailed over an earlier aggravated robbery of a tavern in Auckland in the early 1980s.

Under questioning by Crown prosecutor Natalie Walker, the witness - who is the defendant's brother-in-law - said one of the accused man's friends showed up the week before Labour weekend, with a sawn-off double-barrelled shotgun.

The witness said the men asked if they could go and fire it, to see how it performed.

The witness said he got some cartridges and they went down to the end of the vineyard to test it, each of them taking shots.

They fired into a tree stump and a steel drawer, the witness said.

The witness said he told the men the gun could come in handy for scaring off blackbirds on the vineyard, and he wouldn't mind having it.

When he raised this, there was no mention he could have it and the witness said he never saw it again and doesn't know what happened to it.

The Labour weekend family reunion

The witness said the unnamed defendant's family was having a reunion in Hawke's Bay over Labour weekend.

He said he didn't recall see the accused man on Friday or Saturday.

But the witness said he showed up on Sunday morning.

Under questioning by Walker, the witness said it looked like the unnamed defendant hadn't slept.

He said family members had heard about the Red Fox Tavern shooting on the radio.

The witness said he remembered a family member asking the accused man if what had happened at the tavern had been anything to do with him.

The witness recalled the accused's reply was something to the effect of, "no that's bloody lovely".

Before the defendant and the rest of the family headed to the reunion, the witness said the defendant told him he need to go and get rid of a gun.

He understood the gun the defendant was referring to was the one that had been brought over to the vineyard prior to Labour weekend.

The trial before Justice Woolford and a jury of seven men and five women continues.

-RNZ/Sarah Robson.

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