Red Fox Tavern murder trial: ‘Bombshell’ testimony made by man who felt compelled to stop miscarriage of justice, says defence closing

The defence has closed its case in the infamous fatal Red Fox Tavern robbery trial, with a lawyer arguing that “bombshell” testimony alleging another man confessed has been “devastating” to the Crown case.

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 says they are the two heavily disguised intruders 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 was stolen.

Defence lawyer Christopher Stevenson, representing the unnamed accused, said the jury was being asked to convict fellow human beings of murder when “someone else has confessed to it”.

Stevenson said the testimony of a prisoner, who says Lester Hamilton confessed in jail, could “only be described as a bombshell” that was “devastating” to the Crown.

The prisoner, who has name suppression, felt compelled to come to court and testify to stop a miscarriage of justice, he said.

“He knows they are the wrong people.”

Stevenson said it was so easy to talk about concepts of courage and justice.

But it was “incredibly brave” to come to court to testify, he said.

“He wasn’t prepared to take that secret with him to the grave.”

Yesterday, Crown prosecutor Natalie Walker said the man’s testimony had “hall markers” of unreliability.

She said he had a stand-offish manner, showed an unwillingness to accept proven facts and had a motivation to give false evidence.

Walker said Hamilton had an alibi that meant the “alleged confessions he made can’t be true”.

Today, Stevenson said Tim McKinnel had given evidence Hamilton could have travelled faster to the tavern than the Crown case had accommodated for by driving over the speed limit.

“The Hail Mary that Lester Hamilton can be ruled out because he has an alibi is patent nonsense.”

Stevenson addressed the fact his client, who had earlier been convicted of an aggravated robbery in Auckland, had disposed of a sawn-off shotgun.

The Crown argues this does not make sense unless it was the murder weapon.

Stevenson said the unnamed accused knew police were going to look at him because of the prior aggravated robbery and freaked out.

The defence lawyer criticised that his client had been nominated to the police investigation by Philip Dunbier on Christmas Eve in 1987.

It needed to be considered in the context of what was happening at the time, he said.

“He was a fraudster and that was his oxygen.”

Dunbier agreed to help police with a “sting” operation bugging a Napier motel room to record the unnamed defendant.

“Here’s the kicker,” Stevenson said.

“Nothing incriminating in that all. Doesn’t that tell you something?”

Dunbier has given evidence in the trial recalling a conversation on the beach where he said he asked the unnamed defendant if he was responsible for eliciting a “bit of a cheeky look”.

“Mr Dunbier can say whatever he wants,” Stevenson said.

“He can tag on a wink and a nod or whatever.”

But the unnamed accused had constantly denied responsibility, he said.

Hoggart’s defence lawyer, Craig Tuck, said his client had been present in court with his “resplendent and timeless mullet” but the evidence against him had not been.

“It’s been almost invisible,” Tuck said.

“All he really wants is what you would want.

“Just a fair go.”

The trial continues with Justice Mark Woolford summarising the case for the jury tomorrow.

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