Jury retires in Red Fox Tavern murder case

Mark Hoggart is accused of murdering Chris Bush at the Red Fox Tavern in Maramarua in October 1987. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook.

The jury has retired to consider its verdicts in the trial of two men charged over the Red Fox Tavern shooting and robbery more than 30 years ago.

Father of two Chris Bush, 43, was gunned down at the pub in Maramarua in October 1987 and the offenders fled with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, coins and cheques.

Mark Hoggart and another man who cannot be named are charged with murder and aggravated robbery.

The pair were arrested in 2017, after police started re-investigating the high-profile cold case a year earlier.

Summing up the case to the jury in the High Court at Auckland this morning, Justice Woolford said identity was the crucial issue in the case.

He urged the jurors to assess the evidence carefully.

"You must assess the evidence coolly and dispassionately, and above all fairly.

"That is, fairly to the defendants and also fairly to the community represented by the Crown," Justice Woolford said.

During the trial, the Crown argued a web of circumstantial evidence pointed to the defendants being the two heavily disguised offenders who burst into the tavern late on the Saturday night of Labour weekend.

The Crown said the man with the sawn-off shotgun who fired at Bush was the unnamed defendant, while Hoggart was the man wielding a bat, who subdued the other bar staff and took the money from the safe.

The Crown said both men had a motive - they were effectively broke and needed the money from the robbery.

Their movements before and after the robbery were consistent with them having committed the crime, the Crown said, they were not able to account for where they were at the time of the robbery, and they lied about it in their interviews with police.

Both men appeared to come into a significant amount of cash in the days and weeks after Labour weekend, purchasing motorbikes and cars, the Crown said.

There was also evidence during the trial that the unnamed defendant had talked in prison about committing another aggravated robbery after his release, and the Red Fox Tavern had come up in conversation as a good target, the Crown said.

A car matching the description of one belonging to Hoggart was seen near the Red Fox Tavern the night before the robbery, with two men inside, and the Crown said it was the defendants scoping out the area in preparation.

During the trial, one Crown witness said the unnamed defendant also hinted at his involvement in the crime - and when the witness suggested to him that two shotguns would have been better, he replied "one shotgun and a bat was enough".

Lawyers for the two defendants argued that the wrong men were on trial.

The unnamed defendant's lawyer Christopher Stevenson said another man - Lester Hamilton - was responsible.

Hamilton died in 2003, but a prison inmate, who gave evidence for the defence, said Hamilton had confessed his involvement to him while they were both in jail.

Stevenson said the Crown needed to prove that Hamilton was not the offender - and there was far more evidence of Hamilton being responsible and his client being innocent.

Hoggart's lawyer Craig Tuck said his client had been almost invisible in the evidence heard during the trial and there was nothing that pointed to him being involved in the crime.

-RNZ/Sarah Robson.

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