Red Fox Tavern cold case: Barman shot dead after throwing glass at armed robber

A barman hurled a glass at the gunman who had stormed into the Red Fox Tavern but was fatally shot in the chest with a sawn off double-barrelled shotgun, a court has heard.

The Crown has begun its opening argument in the trial of two men accused of being behind the infamous fatal tavern robbery in Maramarua in 1987.

Mark Joseph Hoggart, 60, and a man with name suppression are jointly charged with the aggravated robbery and murder of its publican, Christopher Bush, on the night of October 24.

It is alleged cheques and cash to the value of just over $36,000 were stolen in the armed hold-up.

Both accused men deny the charges.

A jury of 12 was empanelled in the High Court at Auckland before Justice Mark Woolford earlier today.

Crown prosecutor Ned Fletcher said three decades ago the Red Fox Tavern was a flourishing pub for locals and passersby with a carpark as big as the proverbial football field.

It had a TAB where patrons could put bets on horses, he said.

That particular October 24 was the Saturday of Labour Weekend 1987.

Bush, who had been the publican of the tavern for nearly five years, was widely respected.

“He was a good publican. He ran a tight ship,” Fletcher said.

After the patrons had left, the no-nonsense 43-year-old was having a drink with three staff members.

Kahlua, Southern Comfort and milk for the women and half-pint beer handles for the men.

Fletcher said without any warning two heavily disguised intruders burst in using a back door.

One was wearing overalls zipped to the neck and a balaclava, he said.

The man was carrying a baseball bat, possibly one with a wooden handle and metal tip, Fletcher said.

The other man was armed with a sawn off double-barrelled shotgun.

“This trial is about these two intruders and what they did next,” Fletcher said.

Bush was holding his beer handle and hurtled it towards the gunman, the prosecutor said.

At the same time, the gunman pulled the trigger.

Bush’s left side was exposed to the gun and he was struck in the chest.

“It all happened very quickly.”

One of the staff members was told to look in Bush’s pockets for the keys to his office which housed the safe.

While she was doing this, the gunman allegedly swore at Bush.

The key was later unearthed in a drawer and the offenders made off with more than $36,000 in cheques and cash, the court heard.

Fletcher said the staff who had been tied up, were told not to move for eight minutes otherwise the offenders would hear over a radio.

It was a largely circumstantial case but there were several reasons the Crown was sure it had the right men in the dock, he said.

They included that the descriptions of the offenders were consistent, they had motivation, they were broke and they needed money, he said.

Claims about their whereabouts that night could not be corroborated, he said.

Wellington defence lawyer Christopher Stevenson said the two men were innocent.

“The wrong people have been put on trial.”

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