Man accused of woman’s 1987 murder had raped teenagers, court told

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Shani Warren’s body was discovered bound and gagged in a Buckinghamshire lake more than three decades ago (Thames Valley Police/PA)
Shani Warren’s body was discovered bound and gagged in a Buckinghamshire lake more than three decades ago (Thames Valley Police/PA)

A convicted rapist accused of murdering a woman found bound and gagged in a lake 35 years ago committed “dreadful” attacks, a court has heard.

Donald Robertson is accused of killing 26-year-old Shani Warren, whose body was discovered in Taplow Lake, Buckinghamshire, in 1987.

The first day of his trial, for which he was not present in court, heard he has convictions for raping two girls aged 14 and 17 in separate incidents.

The attack on the older teenager came less than two months after the discovery of Ms Warren’s body in April 1987, a jury at Reading Crown Court was told.

Robertson, who is now aged 66, denies the false imprisonment, indecent assault and murder of Ms Warren between April 16 and 19 that year.

Donald Robertson did not attend the first day of his trial at Reading Crown Court (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)
Donald Robertson did not attend the first day of his trial at Reading Crown Court (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

He was charged in October 2021 over her death.

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

That incident is said to have happened less than four miles from where Ms Warren’s body was found.

Opening the trial on Friday, prosecutor John Price QC told the jury Robertson pleaded guilty in October 1981 to the rape of a 14-year-old girl.

The court heard the rape, which happened in August of that year in Buckinghamshire, saw Robertson threaten the child with a broken bottle and tell her during the attack: “Don’t bloody scream ‘cos if you do, you’ll be scarred.'”

Outlining what he described as “distressing detail” in the various incidents, Mr Price said there were similarities in each case.

He said: “The prosecution submits it is relevant evidence because it is known and proven conduct of Mr Robertson’s which in several aspects is so like that which is alleged to have been done to Shani Warren and (the 16-year-old) as to assist, when combined with other available evidence, in proving that in both cases he was the person responsible for what happened to them.”

The court also heard how, less than two months after the discovery of Ms Warren’s body, Robertson kidnapped and raped a 17-year-old girl who was walking from Slough to Maidenhead after missing the last train.

The girl had told how she was “frightened for my life” during the attack in June 1987 and that while she did not see a weapon Robertson “absolutely convinced me that he had one and that he would use it”.

No-one was arrested at the time and it was not until a reinvestigation in 2010 with the discovery of new scientific evidence that Robertson was convicted, the court heard.

A decade earlier, he was convicted of burglary with intent to commit rape and kidnap after he tricked a woman into opening her room door at a bed and breakfast in Slough by saying she had a phone call.

During the incident in April 1990, he forced her back into her room and assaulted her but she managed to escape.

In the case of Ms Warren, Mr Price described how her body was found on Easter Saturday in 1987 by a woman walking her dog.

Are there not close similarities between many of the dreadful things which are known to have happened when they were raped by Donald Robertson, with the equally dreadful things it appears from the evidence were also done to Shani Warren?

John Price QC, prosecutor

The witness, who is now deceased, told police at the time that the first thing she saw was a pair of hands “with beautifully manicured nails”, tied with something red, later confirmed to be a car jump lead.

Mr Price said that after the body was taken out of the water, it was clear “not only was it bound hand and foot, but also gagged by a piece of cloth wrapped around the head and knotted towards the back”.

He said the police investigation which followed established she had most likely died at some point on the evening of the day before, which was Good Friday, and that the post-mortem examination gave the cause of death as drowning.

He said there was also “fresh bruising to her neck” and “fresh, pin-prick sized haemorrhages or bleeds” on the skin of her face, eyes, and scalp, which, when put together “pointed strongly to an act of strangulation occurring before she died”.

The court heard Robertson was questioned by police in 1981, six years before Ms Warren’s death, about the rape of the 16-year-old girl. He denied the offence at the time and was released.

The alleged victim of that assault will give evidence during the current trial, the jury was told.

Mr Price suggested to the jury: “Are there not close similarities between many of the dreadful things which are known to have happened when they (his victims) were raped by Donald Robertson, with the equally dreadful things it appears from the evidence were also done to Shani Warren, just before she died?”

He also told the jury that DNA evidence will be presented during the trial which the prosecution believes links the defendant to the charges.

At the beginning of proceedings on Friday, the jury was told the dock in court was empty because the defendant had chosen not to attend the trial.

Mr Justice Wall said it is Robertson’s own choice not to attend, that he has a right to make such a choice and it should not be held against him.

The trial was adjourned until 10.30am on Tuesday.

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