Red Fox Tavern trial: Crown says web of circumstantial evidence points to guilt of two men

Mark Hoggart is on trial in the High Court at Auckland.
Mark Hoggart is on trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo credit: RNZ

By Sarah Robson for RNZ

A web of circumstantial evidence points to the two men on trial over the Red Fox Tavern shooting and robbery more than 30 years ago being responsible for the crime, the Crown says.

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 cannot 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 their lawyers have argued the wrong men are on trial.

In her closing address to the jury, Crown prosecutor Natalie Walker said there was one key issue in the trial: who the two heavily disguised offenders were who burst into the Red Fox Tavern just before midnight on the Saturday of Labour weekend.

"Who was the noticeably shorter gunman, and who was the taller, heavier man with the bat?"

The Crown argues that it was the unnamed defendant, armed with a gun, who shot and killed Bush.

Mark Hoggart was his accomplice, carrying a bat, who helped subdue the other bar staff and steal the money, the Crown says.

The case against the two men was largely circumstantial, Walker said.

"As is not uncommon in criminal trials, the Crown case is not built on direct evidence that the defendants were responsible, as might be the case today, if there happened to be CCTV evidence," she said.

"Instead, the Crown case relies on a combination of circumstances from which the Crown says you can infer that the defendants were responsible."

During the trial, the jury heard evidence that the unnamed defendant was jailed for an aggravated robbery of a tavern in Auckland in the early 1980s.

Walker said that robbery had similarities to what happened at the Red Fox Tavern: the offenders wore disguises, they were after money in the safe, they were armed with a sawn-off shotgun, they took bar staff hostage and fled with tens of thousands of dollars.

They were caught the next day, but Walker said that did not put the unnamed man off committing another armed robbery.

Walker said the accused started talking while he was in jail to other inmates about doing another job when he was released.

Father of two Chris Bush, 43, was gunned down at the pub in Maramarua in October 1987.
Father of two Chris Bush, 43, was gunned down at the pub in Maramarua in October 1987. Photo credit: Supplied / Police

One witness, Philip Dunbier, gave evidence that the unnamed man told him that he had another job lined up outside of Auckland somewhere, probably a pub, because they were easier than banks.

It was just 17 days after the accused was released from prison that the shooting and robbery of the Red Fox Tavern took place.

In the days after it, Walker said the unnamed man told one of his co-offenders in the earlier robbery that they were likely to be "getting some heat", because of the similarities between the two crimes.

Walker said there would be many details of the planning and execution of the robbery at the Red Fox Tavern that would only ever be known to the offenders.

"However, as the Crown alleges from the fact that they succeeded in their object and stole $30,000 or more in cash and coins and then disappeared into the night with so few leads for police to follow up on, this was no spur of the moment crime," she said.

Walker said the two defendants showed up the day before the robbery at the Red Fox Tavern at the unnamed man's ex-girlfriend's house in Cambridge.

They were in Hoggart's car - an old Vauxhall Victor.

Later that same day, Walker said a car matching that description was seen by a Maramarua local, not far from the Red Fox Tavern.

"The Crown says it's difficult to think of a legitimate reason to park with the engine still idling, as that noisy brown and green wreck of a car was, for two minutes on that angle, looking back at the tavern at 8.45 on a Friday night," she said.

"The occupants didn't stop and ask for directions, they didn't buy petrol, they weren't changing the tyre ... they didn't go into the dairy. The Crown says their actions are consistent with the offenders casing out the tavern for the robbery that happened the very next night."

Walker said what exactly happened the night of the robbery would probably never be known.

"We will probably never know exactly how they did it, what time they went to Maramarua, what car or cars they used, where they lay in wait," she said.

"Whether it was always their plan to go in and take the bar staff by surprise, or whether they may have been waiting for the bar staff to come out so that they could jump them... Maybe they were hoping to get Christopher Bush on his own, much closer to the 10pm closing time after he'd cashed up, but in the end decided they couldn't wait any longer for the bar staff to finish their drinks and go home, so the Crown says, they went in."

The Crown will finish its closing address to the jury tomorrow. Then lawyers for the two accused men will give their closing addresses before the judge sums up the case later this week.