Woman found 'tied' and 'gagged' in Taplow Lake in 1987, court hears

TAPLOW 45224-2

Police at Taplow Lake in 1987

The trial into a former Slough man accused of kidnapping a woman before gagging her and leaving her to drown in Taplow Lake in the 1980s has begun.

Donald Robertson, 66, formerly of Slough, is charged with the murder of Shani Warren, from Stoke Poges, who was found by a dog walker at the South Bucks lake on Saturday, April 18, 1987.

He is also charged with false imprisonment and indecent assault against Ms Warren, as well as the kidnap and rape of a 16-year-old girl in 1981.

Robertson's trial began this morning (Friday) at Reading Crown Court, at which prosecution barrister, John Price QC, read out his opening statement to the jury.

He said that Ms Warren's body had been found by a dog walker called Marjorie Arnold - now deceased - who was walking around the perimeter of Taplow Lake with her dog.

The court heard that after being alerted to something suspicious in the water by her dog, Ms Arnold 'saw a pair of hands tied with something red'.

Jurors were read a statement given to the police by Ms Arnold at the time.

"I realised that it was a body and I noted that it was face down against the edge, although her head was slightly further out into the water," she said.

"I could also see that she was bound around the ankles with something yellow."

After seeking help from drivers on the nearby A4 Bath Road, Ms Arnold - along with two other members of the public - pulled the body out of the water.

The court heard that as well as the hands and feet being bound, there was also a gag placed around Ms Warren's mouth, as well as 'fresh bruising' to her neck.

"These findings put together pointed strongly to an act of strangulation occurring before she died," Mr Price told jurors.

It was believed that the deceased had passed away the day before - on Friday, April 17, 1987. 

It was later established that the red item which had been tied around Ms Warren's hands was a car jump lead, while the item wrapped around her ankles was a yellow tow rope.

In addition, police divers uncovered a black car jump lead in the lake following underwater searches. 

A post-mortem examination was carried out at Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, in 1987 by the late Dr Benjamin Davis, who ascertained that Ms Warren's cause of death was drowning. 

Mr Davis uncovered small bruises on the right and left thigh of Ms Warren, and on the back of her left hand, while he also observed that her lungs contained 'a lot of inhaled fluid'.

"However, with respect to him, Dr Benjamin Davis was responsible for a significant and culpable omission. He did not take a mouth swab," Mr Price told the jury.

More than 30 years later, when the gag was re-examined, traces of semen were found upon it.

It was Mr Davis' opinion at the time that Ms Warren had committed suicide. 

"It might appear a somewhat surprising conclusion even on the information available to him in 1987," Mr Price explained to the jury. "Putting them in fear of their life leaves no bruise.

"We are here now in April 2022 and what matters in this trial is whether, on the evidence we have available now, it can be proved that this was not a suicide, but a murder, preceded by unlawful restraint of liberty and sexual assault."

Mr Price added that Ms Warren was 'clearly not someone who would ever have contemplated suicide.'

The jury later learned that Ms Warren was cutting the grass outside her Stoke Poges home on Good Friday, before placing the grass cuttings into three plastic bin bags.

She had been last seen to place these bags into the boot of her black Vauxhall Cavalier car, before driving off alone that evening.

Mr Price told jurors: "She was believed to be just popping out and [would] soon be back. But of course she never returned."

The car was spotted by eyewitnesses parked in a lay-by near to Taplow Lake with the drivers door not fully shut, jurors were told. 

Robertson denies the kidnap and rape of a 16-year-old girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, in 1981. 

Reading Crown Court also heard that Robertson admitted raping a 14-year-old girl six years prior to Ms Warren's death, while he was also convicted of the rape of a 17-year-old girl two months after Ms Warren was found. 

Mr Price told the court that there were similarities with each case.

Jurors learned that Robertson was also convicted of burglary with intent to commit rape and kidnap in December 1990.

The judge - Mr Justice Wall - told jury members that the trial will continue on Tuesday morning. 

Robertson - who has chosen not to be present for the court proceedings - denies all of the charges against him.

The trial continues. 

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