Donald Robertson
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A serial rapist who murdered a woman who was found bound and gagged in a lake over three decades ago will die in jail after being sentenced to at least 30 years behind bars. 

Serial attacker Donald Robertson, 66, was charged last year with what became known as the ‘Lady in the Lake’ murder after a police cold case team found new DNA evidence linking him to the death of Shani Warren in April 1987.

Sentencing him today, Mr Justice Wall said: ‘I cannot be sure why you killed Ms Warren, But I am sure that when you threw her into the lake, you intended she should die.

‘In her case, her family had to wait 35 years until they knew for certain you were responsible. They have been told at times she might have killed herself, and at other times, she might have been killed by another man.

‘The anguish of having to wait for so long for the truth to emerge must make the suffering so hard to endure. You have not shown a modicum of remorse. You did not even have the courage to attend this trial. You are a self-centred man who has no feeling for others.’

Robertson is already behind bars for sexual offences and shamefully refused to come to court for his trial. 

The body of 26-year-old Ms Warren, who lived in Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire, was found in Taplow Lake on the Easter weekend of 1987.

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. 

During the trial jurors heard how the original Home Office pathologist, Dr Benjamin Davis, concluded that Shani could have killed herself, based on the looseness of the ties on her hands and the lack of evidence of a physical assault, despite there being clear ligature marks around her neck. 

Police were still suspicious, but had no evidence to charge, which meant Robertson was free to carry on his appalling attacks on lone women.        

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

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 found guilty 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.

Donald Robertson

Donald Robertson

Shani Warren

Shani Warren

Donald Robertson has been found guilty at Reading Crown Court of murdering Shani Warren who was found bound and gagged in a lake in 1987 and guilty of kidnapping and raping a teenager in 1981.

A mouth gag shown to the jury from the trial into the murder of Shani Warren at Taplow Lake, in Buckinhamshire in 1987, and the rape of a girl in Slough

A mouth gag shown to the jury from the trial into the murder of Shani Warren at Taplow Lake, in Buckinhamshire in 1987, and the rape of a girl in Slough

A mouth gag shown to the jury from the trial into the murder of Shani Warren at Taplow Lake, in Buckinhamshire in 1987, and the rape of a girl in Slough

A black jump lead shown to the jury from the trial, which was used by Roberstson to bind Shani during the horrific attack

A black jump lead shown to the jury from the trial, which was used by Roberstson to bind Shani during the horrific attack

A black jump lead shown to the jury from the trial, which was used by Roberstson to bind Shani during the horrific attack

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.

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.

She was found by a dog walker whose German Shepherd had become excited by something, leading police to her body

She was found by a dog walker whose German Shepherd had become excited by something, leading police to her body

She was found by a dog walker whose German Shepherd had become excited by something, leading police to her body

Shani Warren' bound-and-gagged body was found lying face down in a lake in Taplow, Bucks, and was a mystery for decades

Shani Warren' bound-and-gagged body was found lying face down in a lake in Taplow, Bucks, and was a mystery for decades

Shani Warren’ bound-and-gagged body was found lying face down in a lake in Taplow, Bucks, and was a mystery for decades

Robertson murdered Shani after she disappeared from her home in Bucks and then hid her body in a lake to try and escape

Robertson murdered Shani after she disappeared from her home in Bucks and then hid her body in a lake to try and escape

Robertson murdered Shani after she disappeared from her home in Bucks and then hid her body in a lake to try and escape 

Outside court Ms Warren’s brother Stephen said Ms Warren’s parents had died last year with her murder ‘never resolved in their minds’ as he said no sentence would be harsh enough for the ‘psychopath’ and ‘coward’ who killed her.

Donald Robertson: A lifetime of sexual violence and brutal kidnapping of women 

Donald Robertson did not wait long after being released from prison for one brutal rape to commit another.

Among his victims were a 14-year-old girl who was riding her bicycle, and a 17-year-old walking home after missing the last train.

He was jailed in 1978 for burglary and the attempted rape of a 15-year-old girl who was home alone in Slough.

He was released in April 1981 but just three months later he would go on to rape a 16-year-old near Farnham Lane in Slough.

His trial heard that the victim had been asked to pick out her attacker – who pounced on her as she walked home – from a line-up at a police station just a few weeks after the rape in July, and to ‘touch or otherwise clearly indicate’ which one he was.

She did not identify anyone while in the room but shortly afterwards she tearfully told police she believed it was the man standing in Robertson’s position.

Officers at the time decided there was not enough evidence to justify charging Robertson and he was released.

Four days later he raped a 14-year-old girl who had been riding her bicycle in Farnham Royal.

Graphic details of that incident were read to the jury, with the prosecution saying it showed a pattern of behaviour by Robertson where he would threaten his victims.

During that particular attack he shook a broken bottle at the girl and told her she would be ‘marked for life’ if she went to the police.

He pleaded guilty to that rape in October 1981 and spent a little over five years in jail.

It was just four months after his release in December 1986 that he attacked and murdered Shani Warren, throwing her bound and gagged body into Taplow Lake.

Less than two months after Ms Warren’s death, Robertson struck again, attacking a 17-year-old girl as she walked home along the A4 Bath Road, on the outskirts of Slough, having missed the last train.

She described being threatened with what she believed was either a gun or a knife and raped in his car, having been ‘frightened for my life’ during the incident in June 1987.

He was convicted of her kidnap and rape in 2010, after an investigation by the Thames Valley Police major crime review team.

Two decades earlier, in April 1990 he tricked a woman into opening the door of her room at a bed and breakfast in Slough, forcing his way in and threatening her to have sex with him but she escaped.

He was convicted that year of burglary with intent to commit rape and kidnap.

It was not until November 2020 that the major crime review team was first notified of the provisional indication of a match between the DNA profile on the mouth gag on Ms Warren and Robertson.

He was arrested in June the following year.

 

He added: ‘From the day Shani was born, our family dynamic changed. 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.

‘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.’

Thames Valley Police’s major crime review team’s principal investigator, Peter Beirne, told the PA news agency: ‘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.’

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.

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 Weber called Robertson a ‘dangerous and deadly predatory sex offender’ who used ‘violent threats’ to get what he wanted.

‘Our thoughts are with Ms Warren’s loved ones and the other victim in this case who have waited many years to see justice served,’ he said.

Robertson will be sentenced at Reading Crown Court on Thursday.

Shani Warren's Vauxhall Cavalier GL car. onald Robertson has been found guilty at Reading Crown Court of murdering Shani Warren who was found bound and gagged in a lake in 1987

Shani Warren's Vauxhall Cavalier GL car. onald Robertson has been found guilty at Reading Crown Court of murdering Shani Warren who was found bound and gagged in a lake in 1987

Shani Warren’s Vauxhall Cavalier GL car. onald Robertson has been found guilty at Reading Crown Court of murdering Shani Warren who was found bound and gagged in a lake in 1987

The inside of Ms Warren's car after she was kidnapped and murdered showed an unopened Easter Egg in the footwell

The inside of Ms Warren's car after she was kidnapped and murdered showed an unopened Easter Egg in the footwell

The inside of Ms Warren’s car after she was kidnapped and murdered showed an unopened Easter Egg in the footwell

Mr Justice Wall, who presided over the trial, thanked jurors for deliberating on a ‘difficult and traumatic’ case and told them he needed to consider whether to recommend Robertson is ‘never released’ before passing sentence.

Principle investigator Beirne said outside court there may be lessons to be learned.

He added: ‘I’m really pleased we managed to secure the conviction. I wasn’t involved in the original 1987 investigation, however, I’ve spoken to numerous officers that were involved and they’re all delighted that finally it was proven that Shani was murdered, and that Donald Robertson was responsible.

‘We’re very pleased and very relieved. With all cases like these, whilst you’re pleased with the result, the overriding sensation is of relief – finally, we have the person responsible, we have enough evidence to get him before a court, and the jury has decided there was sufficient evidence to convict.

‘Re-investigation into Shani’s case is the same as all old unresolved murders – we did an assessment of what retained material we had, and what the forensic potential might be.

A tow-rope shown to the jury which was used by Robertson to tie up Ms Warren before she was killed by the rapist attacker

A tow-rope shown to the jury which was used by Robertson to tie up Ms Warren before she was killed by the rapist attacker

A tow-rope shown to the jury which was used by Robertson to tie up Ms Warren before she was killed by the rapist attacker

‘Several items were submitted for reexamination over a number of years, but only in early 2020 the mouth gag and the tapings were submitted for re-examination to forensic scientists.

Agony of Shani’s family: Brother pays heartfelt tribute to ‘warm and caring’ sister

The brother of Shani Warren paid tribute to his ‘warm’ and ‘caring’ sister as he described how her loss left a ‘gaping hole’ in the family.

Stephen Warren said Ms Warren’s parents had died last year with her murder ‘never resolved in their minds’ and no sentence would be harsh enough for the ‘psychopath’ and ‘coward’ who killed her.

‘From the day Shani was born, our family dynamic changed. 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 said.

‘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 results produced a DNA profile that, when searched against the national DNA database, matched that of Donald Robertson. Prior to that date, he had never been a suspect in the Shani Warren case.

‘Having the defendant tried and sentenced in their absence is something I’ve not experienced before, however, it’s his [Robertson’s] decision not to come to court – every opportunity was made to try and get him to court.

‘If he declines to come then he can’t be forced to – the trial judge had to abide by that decision, even though Shani’s family were frustrated by the fact that he wasn’t ‘man enough’ to come and hear what he is accused of.

‘I think justice has been served – although Robertson is serving a life sentence at the moment, it is a life sentence with a minimum term – that minimum term had passed, so he was liable to apply for parole.

‘He applied once prior to our investigation identifying him, and had we not charged and convicted him, there would have been potential for him to be successful in any future parole hearing. Also, because it helps to answer some of the questions for Shani’s family.

‘For 35 years they haven’t known what happened to her. There were question marks that she may have committed suicide, but now the court has decided that she had been murdered, but more importantly that Donald Robertson was responsible for her death.’

The investigator added: ‘I don’t think more could have been done by Thames Valley Police in 1987 – from the papers I’ve seen, it was a full and thorough investigation.

‘It was slightly tainted by the original forensic pathologist, in that they ruled she may have committed suicide, but that obviously wasn’t the case as now proven.

‘You have to consider how things were in 1987 – There was no CCTV, no ANPR, and very few mobile phones, so all evidence detectives had was live evidence from witnesses that saw Shani and the offender – they were very limited on what they had to go on.

‘The original investigators were really hampered with what they had to go on – additionally, forensic science in 1987 is not what it is now.

‘DNA evidence was in its infancy In 1987 – you would have to have a sample the size of a 10p piece to have a DNA profile, whereas now we can get DNA samples from much smaller items of bodily fluids.

‘With any investigation, lessons are learned through experience.

Robbie Weber of the Crown Prosecution Service said: ‘Donald Robertson is a dangerous and deadly predatory sex offender who attacked women over almost three decades, using violent threats to get what he wanted.

‘In the case of Shani Warren, he went as far as to take her life.

‘Advances in forensic science led to a breakthrough in the unsolved cases of Ms Warren’s death and the sexual attack on another young girl, with new compelling DNA evidence clearly linking Robertson to both crimes.

‘This evidence played a vital part in the case that we presented at trial which has today resulted in guilty verdicts.

‘Our thoughts are with Ms Warren’s loved ones and the other victim in this case who have waited many years to see justice served.’

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