Red Fox Tavern murderers sentenced to life in prison, giving 'closure' for victim’s family

Two men found guilty of killing publican Chris Bush and robbing the Red Fox tavern in 1987 have been sentenced to life in prison.

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Publican Chris Bush was shot dead at the tavern in Maramarua on October 24, 1987. Source: 1 NEWS

However, they will be eligible for parole in 10 years, based on the law in New Zealand at the time the crime was committed.

Mark Hoggart and another man, who continues to have name suppression, were found guilty to murder and aggravated robbery earlier this year.

It took a jury 18 hours over three days to decide their unanimous guilty verdicts.

Prior to sentencing this morning, Crown prosecutor Anna Devathasan said it was “no accidental killing”.

“It's tempting to think the jury's verdict merely settles a curiosity of the past,” she told the court.

But she said the victim impact statement "dispels" that belief, with statements provided to the court from the Bush family, and three bar staff – one of whom was in court today.

Both Hoggart and the other man maintain their innocence.

Justice Mark Woolford said the effect on the victims had been “enormous”.

“It’s no exaggeration to say their lives have been ruined.”

He sentenced both men to life in prison for murder.

On the charges of aggravated robbery, he sentenced Hoggart to seven years in prison, to be served concurrently, and the other man to eight years.

The trial

Crown prosecutor Natalie Walker admitted at the start of the trial earlier this year there was no direct evidence tying the pair to the crime, and their case would be built on "circumstantial evidence".

They said the pair "burst" into the tavern, heavily disguised and armed - Hoggart with a baseball bat and the other man with a shotgun.

“This is an armed hold up,” one of the men shouted.

Bush, 43 was having a drink with three of his staff, and when he began to move and hurled a beer glass at the intruders, the man armed with the shotgun shot him dead. 

"Chris fell to the floor and the gunman was screaming obscenities... He said, 'Get on the floor, get down on the floor - all of you, now,'" Stephanie Prisk, one of the three bar staff, said during the trial.

The men then robbed the tavern safe of $36,000 in cash, coins, and cheques and tied up the terrified bar staff with yellow twine, before fleeing into the night.

Sherryn Soppet, another staff member, said during the trial she felt "very scared, very, very frightened".

"This sort of thing doesn't happen in our little community."

Three decades passed before arrests were made.

Defence lawyers for both men claimed it was a case of mistaken identity - the police had got the wrong men.

‘Relief and justice’: family responds to sentencing

“Having some closure after all these years brings about a sense of relief and justice for the family and it is now time to move forward and put this painful chapter behind us,” said Chris Bush's widow, Gaye Bush.

Detective Senior Sergeant Albie Alexander said today’s sentencing concluded the 34-year-old case, which was “never far from the mind of the Bush family, or police investigators”.

“Counties Manukau CIB staff, led by recently deceased Detective Inspector Gary Lendrum, set about reviewing the investigation in 2016 following new information coming to police’s attention,” he said.

“The investigators worked tirelessly on this historical case, ultimately leading to the arrest and charging of two individuals in 2017,” he said.