Red Fox Tavern murder trial: Jury retires to deliberate verdicts after judge’s summation

A jury will soon decide if the three-decades-old mystery of the fatal Red Fox Tavern robbery has been solved by police.

A man with name suppression and Mark Joseph Hoggart are on trial for the 1987 aggravated robbery of the pub and murder of its owner, Christopher Bush, in Waikato.

The Crown has argued they are the two heavily disguised robbers who burst in through a back door of the Maramarua tavern on Labour Weekend.

It is alleged the unnamed accused fired a sawn-off double-barrelled shotgun, killing Bush before his three staff members were tied up and just over $36,000 stolen.

Defence lawyers have repeatedly said that the wrong men are on trial.

Justice Mark Woolford told jurors at the High Court in Auckland it was up to them to decide the facts of the case before they were invited to retire to deliberate.

“It is important that you focus on the task at hand.”

The High Court judge said the “crucial” issue at trial was the identity of the armed offenders on the evening of October 24.

In a circumstantial Crown case the analogy often drawn is that of a rope, he said, as any one strand alone might not support weight but all strands combined can.

In the Crown case the defendants were prison mates, known to be associating on the outside, with movements each side of the fatal night consistent with the offending, Justice Woolford said.

The prosecution further argued the defendants’ own accounts of their whereabouts that night could not be corroborated, he said.

The unnamed man also had a prior conviction for a “very similar” aggravated robbery that took place in Auckland in the early 1980s.

Further the unnamed accused had been in possession of a sawn-off double-barrelled shotgun, which he had disposed of, the court heard.

Another strand of the Crown case was both defendants “inexplicably came into money” after Labour Weekend, he said.

Justice Woolford said in the defence case the fact the pair were friends was not probative evidence.

Witnesses may place them in the area that weekend but there was no direct link to the crimes, he said.

When interviewed by police, the defence argued, the pair had recounted their movements as best they could three months on, the judge said.

The delay meaning recall may not be completely accurate, the court heard.

Wellington defence lawyer Christopher Stevenson had also argued there was no real similarity between the earlier aggravated robbery committed by his unnamed client and the fatal Red Fox Tavern robbery.

In the defence case the unnamed accused did have a few thousand dollars when he left prison and had a means to make more, Justice Woolford said.

Possession of firearms also was relatively common in the unnamed man’s circle of friends, the court heard.

Of the gun’s disposal the defence say he freaked out as “he did not want to be wrongly accused”.

Defence points to another man

Yesterday, Stevenson argued that it was “almost certain that Lester Hamilton committed this crime”.

A theory that has been opposed by the Crown who has said Hamilton’s alibi rules him out. Stevenson disputes this.

Justice Woolford said before the jury could even consider the defendants, they had to rule out a reasonable possibility that Hamilton was one of the offenders.

He was initially the “prime suspect” who police say they eliminated in the course of their investigation.


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