Red Fox Tavern cold case: Two men found guilty of killing publican Chris Bush in 1987

A jury in one of the country's most notorious cold cases has found two men guilty of killing Red Fox Tavern publican Chris Bush and stealing more than $36,000 from the pub's safe. 

Mark Hoggart, and a man in his sixties who has name suppression, were charged with aggravated robbery and murder in 2017, thirty years after the Maramarua tavern was stormed in 1987. 

The two men pleaded not guilty, and have been on trial at the High Court at Auckland for seven weeks. 

Today a jury of five women and seven men returned the guilty verdicts, after deliberating for three days.

The Crown case: 'Strands' of evidence

During the trial, the Crown argued it was Mark Hoggart who was "the bat man" in the robbery, while his nameless co-accused carried the gun - a double-barreled side-by-side sawn off shotgun. 

Solicitor Natalie Walker said the Crown case was a circumstantial one, and relied on a number of 'strands' of evidence. 

"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."

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

Walker said one of the 'strands' was that Hoggart and the unnamed man were seen after the robbery with "flash new" motorbikes. 

"The Crown says there's irresistible evidence that before Labour weekend, they had no money, but after Labour weekend they suddenly had cash to burn," she told the court.  

Another was that the man with name suppression had been in prison for what the Crown called a, "strikingly similar" aggravated robbery, during which time he talked to a prison inmate named Charles Ross, who gave evidence in court, and said the man had spoken about "doing another one". 

Ross said the man had mentioned Red Fox would " a good one to look at". 

Seventeen days after the man with name suppression got out of prison, the Red Fox Tavern was robbed. 

The Crown also argued Mark Hoggart had been spotted "scoping out" the Red Fox Tavern the night before the robbery, by a witness named Robyn Pyle. 

Pyle, who died in 2014, had her statement read to the court, and said she had seen a Vauxhall Victor parked outside the pub on the Friday night. 

Chris Bush was killed in 1987.
Chris Bush was killed in 1987. Photo credit: Supplied / Police

The defence case: An alleged prisoner confession 

The Defence case was largely centred on an alleged confession from a former prisoner named Lester Hamilton. 

A man who was his former inmate gave evidence, saying Hamilton had spoken to him about Red Fox, and had allegedly said, "They won't get anybody for that...that's mine'.

Chris Stevenson, who is the defence lawyer for the man with name suppression, said the wrong men were on trial. 

"What I suggest to you is that it is almost certain Lester Hamilton committed this crime." 

Stevenson said the former prison inmate who was called as a witness had never told anyone. 

"When he heard other people had been charged, he knows they're the wrong people."

Mark Hoggart's defence lawyer argued there had been an absence of any evidence that his client was the man with the bat. 

"While he's been present at this trial, the evidence against him simply has not been here," he said. 

But today the jury found both Mark Hoggart and the man with name suppression guilty of robbing the Red Fox Tavern, and shooting publican Chris Bush in a hold-up turned homicide.