Red Fox Tavern murder trial: Witness felt ‘scared’ and ‘bewildered’

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One of the women who was working at the Red Fox Tavern when the publican was shot dead more than 30 years ago has described to a jury the moment the gunman pulled the trigger.

Chris Bush

Chris Bush was shot dead during a robbery at the Red Fox Tavern in Maramarua in 1987. Photo: Supplied / NZ Police

Father of two Chris Bush, 43, was gunned down during a robbery at the tavern in Maramarua, northern Waikato, in October 1987.

Mark Hoggart, 60, and another man with name suppression are on trial in the High Court at Auckland, charged with murder and aggravated robbery.

They deny any involvement in the crime.

Stephanie Prisk was one of the staff who Bush was drinking with when two intruders burst in not long before midnight on Saturday, 24 October 1987.

She was 33 at the time of the robbery, and is now aged 66.

Crown prosecutor Natalie Walker asked Prisk what happened, when two intruders burst through the unlocked back door.

“Two people came in and said, ‘this is an armed robbery’. One had a gun and one had a baseball bat. The baseball bat man came over towards me and the gunman stayed further by the door,” Prisk said.

“Chris [Bush] stood up and walked past me into the lounge, past me some way. Something happened, then there was the explosion, then Chris fell on the floor.

“The gunman was screaming obscenities and yelling and it was crazy and then he said, ‘get on the floor, get down on the floor, all of you now down on the floor’ and the baseball bat man was over us and we were made to get on the floor.”

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Walker asked Prisk how she felt when it happened.

“Frightened, scared, in shock, bewildered,” Prisk said.

The gunman then demanded to know where the keys were, Prisk said.

She and another staff member told the gunman that Bush had the keys.

Prisk said she ended up going to get the keys from Bush’s pocket – her colleague Sherryn Soppet did not have her glasses, while another workmate Bill Wilson was in “total shock”, she said.

“There was only one alternative and that was me, so I crawled up the floor to Chris’s pockets and searched for the keys.”

Mark Hoggart is accused of murdering Chris Bush at the Red Fox Tavern in Maramarua in October 1987.

Mark Hoggart is facing charges related to the killing of Chris Bush at the Red Fox Tavern in Maramarua in October 1987. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Prisk said the man with the bat was holding it over her as she searched for them. Once she had them, she said she was then told she had to open the safe – something she had never done.

Prisk said she was then told to open a number of doors to get to the safe – when she couldn’t, the man with the bat kicked them open.

At one point, she said she told the man she had three young children and pleaded with him not to hurt her.

Once they got into the manager’s office where the safe was, Prisk said they told her to open the safe, but she could not.

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She was ordered to go back to the bar area where the others were and get back on the floor.

Eventually, the man managed to crack the safe.

“As soon as I heard coin, I thought thank god, we might get out of this,” Prisk said.

Before the intruders left, Prisk said she and her colleagues were tied up with yellow twine.

“I remember saying to Sherryn [Soppet], we can’t move until we hear a car leave. We waited and there was no car, there was no noise,” Prisk said.

“Eventually I said, we’re just going to have to make a move,” she said. “We have to get help.”

Prisk said her workmate Soppet may have called out to Bush to check he was alright.

“We were hoping he may have just been laying there, I think she called out but there was no response.”

Once they were able to untie themselves, Prisk said Wilson went to check on Bush.

“Straight away he said to Sherryn and I, ‘get out of here, get out of here’.

“We knew we needed to phone straight away to get help.”

Earlier in her evidence, Prisk said she had arrived at work that night just after 5.30pm.

She had got a lift with her workmate, Wilson.

Under questioning by Walker, Prisk said it was a quiet night at the bar, with mostly locals and people she recognised there.

Walker asked her if she noticed anything out of the ordinary.

“Not at all,” Prisk said.

The Crown expects to call more than 60 witnesses in the trial, which could take up to 12 weeks.

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