A man has been found guilty of the murder of Shani Warren, whose body was found bound and gagged in a lake 35 years ago.
A jury at Reading crown court found Donald Robertson guilty of the imprisonment, indecent assault and murder of the 26-year-old, after the discovery of new DNA evidence.
He was also found guilty of the kidnap and rape in July 1981 of a 16-year-old girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons. She was reported being attacked less than four miles from where Warren’s body was found in Taplow Lake, Buckinghamshire, in April 1987.
Robertson, a serial attacker, was charged last year after a police cold case team found the new DNA evidence linking him to Warren’s murder.
The court heard Robertson had convictions for raping two girls, aged 14 and 17, in separate incidents in August 1981 and June 1987. He also has a conviction for burglary with intent to commit rape, and the kidnap of a woman in April 1990.
Prosecutors said the cornerstone of the case against Robertson was DNA evidence that emerged decades after the attack on Warren and the rape of the 16-year-old girl. The jury was told DNA traces found on the underwear of both victims, as well as on a mouth gag used on Warren, were a match for the defendant.
Robertson was convicted by unanimous verdict after jurors deliberated for more than seven hours after his two-week trial.
The judge, Mr Justice Wall, 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. Sentencing will take place on Thursday.
Robertson is serving a life sentence in prison and has not attended the trial. He did not give evidence in his defence.
After Warren’s body was found, the original investigation concluded that her death was the result of suicide – even though she had been bound and gagged.
Robertson’s lawyer 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 Warren’s death stating she could have tied her own wrists and ankles, making it a suicide.
But the prosecution said Warren had not been suicidal.
Thames Valley police described Robertson as “evil” and someone with a “long and horrific list of previous convictions”. Officers expressed regret there had not initially been enough evidence to charge him with the teenage girl’s rape in Farnham Lane, Slough.
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.
And less than two months after attacking and killing 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 was convicted of that in 2010 after the rape was reviewed by the police’s cold case team.
Police apologised to Warren’s family for taking so long to bring her attacker to justice.
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.”
Beirne called 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 praised the rape victim 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.”