Red Fox Tavern cold case: Murder victim 'didn't stand no nonsense' as publican

By Sarah Robson for RNZ

A man who was one of the first on the scene after a Waikato publican was gunned down in a robbery more than 30 years said as soon as he saw his friend lying face down on the floor, he knew he was dead, a jury has been told.

Father of two Chris Bush, 43, was shot dead at the Red Fox Tavern in Maramarua, northern Waikato, on 24 October 1987.

Mark Hoggart, 60, and another man with name suppression are on trial in the High Court at Auckland, charged with murder and aggravated robbery.

They deny any involvement in the crime.

On Thursday the jury was read statements given to the police by Peter Soppet, who has since died.

Soppet was the husband of Sherryn Soppet, who was one of the bar staff at the tavern when the two intruders burst in.

In his statement, Soppet said he was woken up by a phone call from his wife at about 12:20am on October 25, 1987.

"She said to me, 'there's been an armed hold up and Chris has been shot'," he said.

"You could tell from her voice something was drastically wrong."

Soppet drove from his house to the tavern but he did not see anyone or anything on the way.

"If there had been anyone around I would have seen them," he said.

When he arrived at the tavern, he was met by Bill Wilson, who was a part-time barman.

"He said, 'Chris is dead, come to your woman'."

Sherryn Soppet was on the phone to the police.

He said when he saw Bush, he was face down on the floor.

"I didn't touch him at all, there was no one else near the body," Soppet's statement said.

A lot of other locals arrived at the tavern and Soppet told them not to touch anything.

Soppet said his wife was still on the phone to the police and he ended up talking to the officer himself.

Mark Hoggart is facing charges related to the killing of Chris Bush at the Red Fox Tavern in Maramarua in October 1987. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook
Mark Hoggart is facing charges related to the killing of Chris Bush at the Red Fox Tavern in Maramarua in October 1987. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

He said he was asked whether Bush was definitely dead. Soppet told another man to check Bush's pulse - there was no pulse.

Soppet said he broke the news to Bush's wife Gay.

In another statement to the police, Soppet said he had known Bush ever since he had arrived at the Red Fox Tavern.

He said he and his wife would have been the Bush family's closest friends in Maramarua.

Soppet said Bush was a good publican, who ran a tight ship.

"He didn't stand no nonsense," he said.

If Bush was not comfortable with someone being at the bar, he had no problem telling them to leave, Soppet said.

Bush was not a small man and he did not stand back - Soppet said he was looking after his bar and his patrons.

The jury also heard evidence from pathologist Warwick Smeeton who examined Bush's body.

Smeeton said Bush's gunshot injuries were "unsurvivable".

Gunshot pellets had penetrated Bush's heart and lungs.

Smeeton said death would have occurred very quickly - less than a minute - from blood loss and direct damage to the heart.