Pathologist disputes doctor's findings after Shani Warren death, court hears

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A pathologist has told a court he does not agree that Shani Warren died from suicide 35 years ago as a doctor's opinion at the time came under scrutiny today (Tuesday).

Ms Warren’s body - which was tied and gagged - was found face down in Taplow Lake on April 18, 1987. 

The jury heard that Ms Warren’s ankles and legs were tied with a yellow tow rope, while her hands were restrained by a red car jump lead. Meanwhile, a gag placed around her mouth was described as a ‘blue scarf’. 

Donald Robertson, 66, formerly of Slough, is standing trial for the 26-year-old’s murder, as well as indecent assault and false imprisonment against Ms Warren.

Following Friday’s opening by the prosecution, today (Tuesday) saw a continuation of the trial at Reading Crown Court, with the jury hearing from Home Office pathologist, Dr Ashley Fegan-Earl.

Dr Fegan-Earl was asked for his expert opinion on a previous post-mortem carried out by the late Dr Benjamin Davis in 1987, who also gave evidence at Ms Warren’s inquest in October that year.

At the time, Dr Davis noted a small selection of bruises on Ms Warren’s body, while her lungs were described as ‘bulky and doughy in consistency’.

Her liver was swollen, while a series of haemorrhages were discovered on the face, in particular the eye area.

The ligatures which had been applied to Ms Warren’s body were described as ‘loosely tied’.

Dr Davis came to the conclusion in 1987 that the 26-year-old had died from drowning, adding that prior to this, ‘an act of strangulation had occurred’. 

“A careful examination of the body did not reveal any evidence of any physical assault,” Dr Davis said in his conclusion at the time.

“The ligatures appeared to be somewhat loosely tied, possibly by the deceased herself.”

The jury also heard evidence that Dr Davis had given at Ms Warren’s inquest, at which he said ‘there was perhaps a remote possibility’ of third party involvement in her death.

He said: “All the evidence pointed that way, and the more I heard the more I became convinced. But I was perfectly prepared to change my view.”

The jury heard that Dr Davis believed Ms Warren had died from suicide.

Dr Fegan-Earl was pressed on his observations of Dr Davis’ work by prosecution barrister John Price QC.

The pathologist told the court that while he agreed on drowning being the cause of death, he differed in his opinion on whether someone else had been involved.

“Having regard to the evidence that has been provided to me, I am of the opinion that the features here are supportive of a death due to third party involvement,” Dr Fegan-Earl said.

He said that his decision on this came down to three reasons.

The first was the recent discovery of traces of semen on the gag which had been placed around Ms Warren’s mouth, and second was the ‘extensive binding and gagging of the body’.

He added that the presence of ‘neck compressions’ on her body could have made her ‘unconscious and incapable’.

“[There exists] a distinct possibility that the deceased was rendered unconscious by application of the ligatures, then bound and her body deposited into the lake,” Dr Fegan-Earl said. 

When asked by Mr Price whether he agreed with Dr Davis’ opinion that Ms Warren had died from suicide, Dr Fegan Earl said ‘no’. 

Defending Robertson, Michael Ivers QC suggested that the marks on Ms Warren’s neck could have been applied by her pulling on the ligatures herself. 

Dr Fegan-Earl replied that this would depend on the type of restraint used, as one that is loosely tied by a person on themselves is likely to fall away after they become unconscious, and thus proper circulation will return to the body.

Earlier in the day, a former police officer told the court of the moment she found Shani Warren’s body tied up and gagged in the lake. 

Julie Cooper, who worked as a police constable for Thames Valley Police, was the first emergency responder when Ms Warren was found dead. 

Ms Cooper told the court what she witnessed when she reported to the lake whilst out on patrol. 

She was met by the late Marjorie Arnold, who had found Ms Warren earlier that evening having previously believed the body to be a ‘dummy’.

Ms Arnold directed the constable to the body, which was floating face down in Taplow Lake.

Old witness statements from Ms Arnold were read to the court earlier in the day, in which she told police in 1987 that her and two other members of the public had dragged Ms Warren’s body to land.

“Once I identified it was a body I asked for assistance,” Ms Cooper told the jury. “It was obvious that it was a female who had been tied up. There were several ties around her body.” 

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

The trial continues

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