My sister Shani Warren's death was ruled suicide after she was found tied up in lake… it took 35 years to learn truth | The Sun

WHEN Shani Warren’s body was pulled from a Berkshire lake on April 18, 1987, her hands were tied behind her back, her feet bound and her mouth gagged.

Yet, incredibly, a Home Office pathologist insisted the 26-year-old’s death was a ‘suicide’ – leading to an enduring mystery which meant her family was denied justice for 35 years.

In May 2022, serial rapist Donald Robertson, then 66, was jailed for 30 years for the murder of the secretary from Maidenhead and the rape of a 16-year-old six years earlier, after breakthroughs in DNA testing led Thames Valley Police to crack the case.

A new Channel 5 documentary, Dark Water: The Murder of Shani Warren, examines the incredible case of the 'Lady in the Lake', and reveals how overwhelming evidence of an attack was ignored at the time.

Speaking ahead of tonight's programme Pete Bierne, who led the Major Crime Review Team which finally brought Shani’s killer to justice, says the lack of answers over the years have exacerbated the family’s suffering.

“Shani was a lovely, gregarious young woman that was incredibly sociable, had lots of friends and everything to live for,” he tells The Sun.

Read more in Features

I wanted to end my own life after my soldier son Lee Rigby was murdered

I led UK’s secret UFO division – a forgotten sighting still haunts me

“Unfortunately both her parents died a month or two after we obtained the DNA profile which identified Robertson and, unfortunately, were in a state of ill health at that point, so the family decided it was best for them not to be told. 

“We never got the chance to tell them that we were progressing the case, which is very sad.”

Older brother Steve tells the documentary Shani would “light up a room” with her "friendliness, her brightness, her fun” and was cruelly robbed of a bright future.

“If Shani had lived, what would her life have been like?” he muses.

Most read in The Sun


Moment man arrested ‘for throwing gun cartridges into Buckingham Palace’


Coronation Street actress Rebecca Ryan gives birth and reveals adorable name


Boy, 9, died after being 'beaten & held in cold bath by mum and her fiancé'


Towie's Amber Turner and Dan Edgar split after six years together

Pete Bierne with Shani's Vauxhall Cavalier, found at the sceneCredit: SUPPLIED
Donald Robertson was found guilty 35 years onCredit: PA

“She would have undoubtedly married, she would have had children, she would have been the most loving mother and wife that you could ever imagine. 

“She would have been the source of support to the rest of her family.

"She would have been a wonderfully well-liked and well-loved person. But that was taken away.”


Generous and bubbly, Shani came from a loving family and had a “special bond” with Steve.

“ I was her big brother and she was my little sister. I always felt protective and proud of her,” he says.

“Shani’s relationship with my mum was always close. They would confide in each other. They were more like friends."

Looking forward to the long Easter weekend in 1987, Shani left her home around 6pm to buy an Easter egg and card for ex-boyfriend Roger Pell, with whom she still had a close relationship.

The following day a woman walking a dog at Taplow Lake saw a body in the water.

She ran to a nearby road to flag down motorist Steven Reed, who waded into water and dragged her to the bank before calling police.

Shani's feet were bound with a car tow rope, her hands tied behind her back with a red jump lead, and a blue material gag was in her mouth. 

Police divers also found a black jump lead, tied like a noose. On the bank the only footprints the police found were made by Shani’s stiletto heels.

Parked in a layby beside the busy A4, Shani’s car was discovered locked apart from the driver’s door, with the seat fully recline.

The Easter egg was found in a Bunce’s newsagents bag on the floor.

“The whole situation seemed to be an obvious murder,” says former officer Chris Edgerly, among the first on the scene.

But when pathologist Dr B.T. Davis arrived at dusk, he appeared to jump to a bizarre conclusion.

“I briefed him with what I knew and the photographs I had taken and  described the scene to him,” Chris recalls.

“[Davis] looked across the lake to where this body was, and you couldn't see much from where he was. And he said, ‘It looks like she's done it herself’.”

Pete tells The Sun the looseness of the ties were the main reason the pathologist concluded she had "tied them herself".

“To the untrained eye, it appears obvious there was third party involvement," Chris says.

"But because the bindings, particularly around her hands, were, in his view, so loose and so amateurish, the person who tied them was not deliberately trying to render someone incapable."

Missed opportunity

Because she was fully dressed and had no physical signs of a struggle, Dr Davis also concluded Shani had not been sexually assaulted, meaning a vital mouth swab was not taken. 

“A mouth swab would be usually taken from a body in those circumstances, but that wasn’t done,” says Pete.

“Had that been taken there's a fair chance semen may have been found, which would have given the investigation a completely different slant.”

Brother Steve insists Shani was “the last person you could ever meet” who would take her own life.

“She was fired up. She was happy. She was looking ahead. She had everything to live for," he says.

But Dr Davis’ view split the investigation team, with some agreeing and others insisting it could be murder.

A female officer, Sarah Haskell, even attempted to tie herself up into similar bindings and found it “nearly impossible” without assistance.

Thames Valley police continued to investigate the possibility of foul play but, at the inquest Dr Davis – who has since died – insisted: “The young lady’s tying up of the wrists and ankles was so amateurish that I can’t imagine any assailant attempting to tie her up in that particular way.”

Knot expert Geoffrey Budworth, who gave evidence at the inquest, said it was “possible” Shani had tied her own hands together using the loose knot but acknowledged it was “hard to imagine” she could strangle herself with the jump lead ligature because it would have slackened as soon as she lost consciousness.

The inquest recorded an open verdict but Steve Warren insists: “We knew that it was murder and we'd never accept anything less."

New lead

Ten years on, Thames Valley re-examined the case after a string of attacks on women across the country, many with similarities to Shani’s case.

The victims were abducted in their own vehicles, driven to a secluded location, raped in their vehicle then allowed to get dressed. 

They were taken to a canal or a river then tied up, usually with items found in the car, and pushed in the water.

Eventually lorry driver Clive Barwell was arrested and DNA linked him to attacks in Leeds, Bradford and Nottingham.

He was also known to have been in Maidenhead on the weekend of Shani’s murder but, while he was convicted of 11 sexual assaults, there was no forensic evidence linking him to her death.


It would be another 23 years without answers before a new breakthrough led Pete’s cold case team to take the case further. 

Convinced she had been murdered, he called in a forensic expert to re-examine the evidence, which had been carefully preserved by previous teams.

Thanks to huge leaps in technology, Dr Ros Hammond was able to identify a spot of male blood on the material used to gag Shani, and then discovered there was also semen present.

She also found male DNA on the material of Shani’s bra, which led them to convicted sex offender Donald Robertson, who lived minutes from Bunce’s newsagents, where he is thought to have abducted Shani as she wrote a card to ex Roger.

“As a team, we dealt with Robertson in 2010 for a historic stranger rape of a 17-year-old girl about three miles down the road in Slough and about six weeks after Shani’s death,” says Pete. 

“Because the pathologist had said that there was no evidence of any sexual interference with Shani, we hadn’t treated it as a sexual crime, so we didn’t question known sex offenders. 

“It was only when our 2020 tests found the semen on the mouth gag that changed. If a mouth swab had been taken at the time, we may have got him earlier.”

Robertson, who has been in jail for multiple sex offences since 2007, had been eligible to apply for parole when he was convicted of Shani’s murder and the rape of a 16-year-old.

Jailed for a minimum of 30 years, he is now unlikely to be released. 


Pete says the overriding feeling was “relief” and a sense that the team had finally given Shani’s family the justice they deserved.

“It's been a long ordeal for the family,” he says. 

“She was the only daughter, the only sister and when something like that happens, unfortunately, that family is never complete. 

“There's always that space at the dining table at Christmas, birthdays, Mother's Day and other occasions. There's always somebody missing. 

“What made it harder was the fact that the pathologist and some police officers were of the view that she had taken her own life.

Read More on The Sun

Shoppers are going wild for M&S midi dress that’s ideal for the Coronation

Here’s why you must NEVER pee in the shower – and 4 other habits to avoid

“But we, as a police service, never forgot Shani."

Dark Water: The Murder of Shani Warren, airs on Channel 5 tonight.

Source: Read Full Article