Red Fox Tavern murder: Accused told prison mate 'one shotgun and a bat was enough'

Chris Bush was gunned down at the pub in Maramarua in October 1987.
Chris Bush was gunned down at the pub in Maramarua in October 1987. Photo credit: Supplied / Police

By Sarah Robson for RNZ

A witness in the Red Fox Tavern murder trial says he offered to help police in their original investigation and wore a recording device when he met up with one of the accused.

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

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

They deny the charges and say police arrested the wrong men.

Giving evidence this morning, Philip Dunbier said he met the men while he was serving time in Kaitoke Prison.

Questioned by Crown prosecutor Natalie Walker, Dunbier said he got on with the unnamed man while he was in prison.

Walker asked him what they did together.

"Hang out, get stoned, talked about crime, what else do you do in jail?" Dunbier replied.

Dunbier said they talked about robberies and the unnamed man told him he had another job lined up once he got out of jail, outside of Auckland.

"Probably a pub, pubs were quite popular then ... Bit easier than banks," Dunbier said.

He was released from prison in November 1987, about a month after the shooting and robbery at the Red Fox.

Dunbier said he saw the two accused after that and they had "flash new bikes".

He said he "figured they had done a job and got some money".

Walker questioned Dunbier on whether he asked them where they got the money from.

"You can't have that sort of conversation, 'hey nice bike where'd you steal the money', it doesn't work that way," he said.

Dunbier gave his first statement to police about the Red Fox Tavern shooting and robbery on Christmas Eve 1987.

He gave further statements to police in early 1988.

Dunbier said he went to Hawke's Bay to visit the unnamed man in January 1988.

He was asked whether the Red Fox Tavern came up in conversation.

"I said, 'did you do it?'," Dunbier said.

He could not remember the man's exact answer, but said he told him: "'of course I didn't mate', but with a sort of wink and a nod".

Dunbier said they also talked about method and he suggested it would have been better to use two shotguns.

He said the man told him, "one shotgun and a bat was enough".

They also agreed it was a good robbery, because no-one had been caught, Dunbier said.

Walker asked Dunbier about subsequent trips he made to Hawke's Bay.

Dunbier agreed to help police in their investigation and was put up in a motel in Napier, he said.

A recording device was set up in the room and police gave him some money to cover his expenses.

"The idea is we'd have a few beers and they'd record what we were saying," Dunbier said.

But the recording device didn't work, because the television was turned up too loud, he said.

Dunbier said the accused was also "paranoid" about being recorded, so was careful about what he said.

There was a second occasion when a recording device was put in a part of his jacket.

The unnamed man had been interviewed by police in January and Dunbier was asked whether that had ever come up in conversation.

"He just said they were getting at him, trying to set him up," Dunbier said.

The unnamed man told him he thought the police officers were "idiots", he said.

Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Elizabeth Hall, Dunbier was asked about his own criminal history.

"It's pretty extensive," he said.

He had convictions for burglary, fraud and admitted he was violent.

Dunbier said he had also committed crimes he hadn't been caught for.

"You're a professional fraudster," Hall said.

"Fraud was easy money, it was a good way to earn," Dunbier said.

Hall asked Dunbier whether he had gone to police "to put the boot" into one of the accused, who he had an issue with.

"Yup," he said.

Hall questioned Dunbier about her client's denials to him that he was involved in the Red Fox Tavern shooting and robbery.

She said the unnamed man had never admitted to him he was involved, and asked Dunbier if what he was saying was "utter rubbish".

"No, I said [he said], 'of course I didn't mate', with a bit of a cheeky grin," Dunbier said.

On re-examination, Walker asked Dunbier if he had told the truth.

"Yes I have," he said.

The trial continues.