'Evil predator' found guilty of murdering 'lady in the lake' 30 years ago

17 May 2022, 20:28

The body of Shani Warren was found in Taplow Lake in 1987
The body of Shani Warren was found in Taplow Lake in 1987. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

A "predator" who raped a teenager and murdered a woman whose bound and gagged body was found in a lake has been convicted decades after his "horrendous" crimes.

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Serial attacker Donald Robertson was charged last year after a police cold case team found new DNA evidence linking him to the death of Shani Warren in April 1987.

The body of 26-year-old Ms Warren, who lived in Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire, was found in Taplow Lake on the Easter weekend that year.

Her car had been abandoned in a layby on the A4, with bin bags containing remnants of grass from Ms Warren having recently mowed the lawn, and an Easter egg in the driver's footwell.

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Ms Warren's brother Stephen Warren described how her loss had left a "gaping hole" in the family and said their parents had died last year with her murder "never resolved in their minds".

"From the day Shani was born, our family dynamic changed," said Mr Warren in a statement issued through Thames Valley Police.

"Not just with the usual baby things, and the subsequent arrival of dolls, dresses and so on, but over time, our new little addition grew into a wonderfully pretty and happy child whom everyone immediately took to their hearts."

He went on: "On Good Friday, 1987, after mowing the lawn, another duty she resolutely took on, she 'popped out' to dispose of the grass cuttings, get some food, and buy a card and Easter egg for an ex-boyfriend. She was due back, likely in an hour or so.

"But it is one of life's tragedies that everything can be destroyed in an instant. Somehow or other, Shani encountered the serial rapist Donald Robertson, whose practice was to attack unaccompanied young girls and women, terrifying them into submission with vicious threats and abuse.

"We cannot imagine what the last moments of Shani's life must have been like, but you may agree that no punishment is enough for her attacker; a psychopath and a coward who lacked the courage to attend court, or even to give evidence via a live link.

"As you can imagine, the loss of Shani left a gaping hole in the family. Not just of a central member and surely its brightest light, but of a force of energy, hope and positivity. Her parents never recovered, and for us all, nothing felt the same again."

The woman who was kidnapped and raped by Robertson as a 16-year-old said she can "finally get some closure" following his conviction.

The victim, who cannot be identified, branded Robertson "the monster that put my life in turmoil" as she thanked her family and officers for helping her pursue the case to justice as an adult.

"It's been almost a year since the investigation was reopened, and to relive that dreadful night has been very distressing," she said in a statement issued through the police force.

"The weeks leading up to the trial have been very traumatic for myself and my family, but with their support I found the courage and strength that I didn't have as a 16-year-old to pursue the case against the monster that put my life in turmoil."

She added: "Justice has been done and I can finally get some closure. So to anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation, don't be afraid to ask for help, be strong and with your courage and the right support you will get through the trauma."

Ms Warren's murder left a "gaping hole" in the family, her brother said on Tuesday
Ms Warren's murder left a "gaping hole" in the family, her brother said on Tuesday. Picture: Alamy

Robertson, 66, did not attend his trial and the dock at Reading Crown Court was empty on Tuesday as a jury found him guilty of both crimes.

He was convicted of the false imprisonment, indecent assault and murder of Ms Warren between April 16 and 19 - her wrists having been tied with a car jump lead and ankles bound by a tow rope.

He was also convicted of the kidnap and rape of a 16-year-old girl, who cannot be identified, on July 16 1981.

Police described "evil" Robertson as someone with a "long and horrific list of previous convictions" and said it is "a regret" there was not enough evidence at the time to charge him with the teenage girl's rape in Farnham Lane, Slough.

Ms Warren's body was found in Taplow Lake in April 1987
Ms Warren's body was found in Taplow Lake in April 1987. Picture: Alamy

Just days after being released by police in connection with that offence, Robertson raped a 14 year-old girl who had been riding her bicycle in Farnham Royal, a crime to which he pleaded guilty in October 1981.

In a similar vein, less than two months after attacking and killing Ms Warren and only a few miles from Taplow Lake, he raped a 17-year-old girl who was walking home having missed the last train.

He is currently behind bars for that crime, having been convicted in 2010 after the incident was reviewed by the police's cold case team.

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The prosecution said new DNA evidence was the "cornerstone" of the latest case against Robertson - with traces matching his found on the underwear of both victims as well as on a mouth gag used on Ms Warren.

Police said they were sorry it had taken so long to bring her attacker to justice, but that the case coming to court was down to advancements in forensic science.

Thames Valley Police's major crime review team's principal investigator, Peter Beirne, said: "In relation to Shani's family I'd like to thank them for their support, thank them for their patience.

"I'm sorry that it took so long to bring Robertson before the court, but we've only been able to do that as a result of advancements in forensic science. It was not as a result of any lack of effort on behalf of the police.

"It was just that unfortunately, at that time, there was not the evidence to enable us to charge Robertson."

Ms Warren became known as 'the lady in the lake'
Ms Warren became known as 'the lady in the lake'. Picture: Alamy

Mr Beirne branded Robertson an "evil and dangerous" man and a "predator" who had attacked women and girls "throughout his adult life", subjecting them to "the most horrendous acts".

He said Robertson's failure to attend his trial "speaks volumes" to his character, labelling him "a coward, (who) wasn't prepared to stand up and answer to the charges which were put before him".

He praised the victim of the rape for her "strength of character" in going to court to give evidence during the trial.

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He said: "I'd like to thank her for her bravery and courage in coming forward when we spoke to her, having to go through the ordeal of giving evidence before a crown court and also having to relive that horrific event which took place all those years ago."

Robertson did not give evidence in his defence, and his lawyer called no witnesses but claimed another convicted rapist guilty of crimes around that time involving tying women up and attacking them could have been the culprit.

He also referred to evidence from a pathologist at the time of Ms Warren's death stating she could have tied her own wrists and ankles, making it a suicide, and argued that even if a third party was involved, the possibility of someone falling into the water after having been tied up and assaulted, could not be ruled out.

But the prosecution said Ms Warren had not been suicidal and the jury took just seven hours and 18 minutes to convict Robertson of murder alongside the other charges against him.

Senior Crown Prosecutor Robbie Weber, of the Crown Prosecution Service, hailed advances in forensic science leading to "new compelling DNA evidence clearly linking Robertson to both crimes".

He added: "This evidence underpinned the case that we presented at trial which has today resulted in guilty verdicts."

Mr Justice Wall, presiding over the trial, told jurors he needed to consider whether "to recommend he (Robertson) is never released" from prison and thanked them for deliberating on such a "difficult and traumatic" case.

Robertson will be sentenced at the same court on Thursday afternoon.