Fashion student convicted of acid attack on former partner

A fashion student has been acquitted of murdering her former partner who died by euthanasia after she threw acid over him as he lay sleeping.

Berlinah Wallace, 48, meticulously researched acid attacks and purchased a bottle of 98% concentration sulphuric acid online after Mark van Dongen left her for another woman.

She threw the liquid over Mr van Dongen, an engineer, as he slept in bed at her flat in Westbury Park, Bristol, in the early hours of September 23 and laughed as she told him: "If I can't have you, no-one else can".

Wallace, from South Africa, did not call emergency services, but instead chatted to an ex-boyfriend on the phone after Mr van Dongen fled in agony.

Berlinah Wallace (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)
Berlinah Wallace (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

Neighbours phoned 999 after hearing Mr van Dongen's screaming for help and found him covered in acid, wearing a pair of black boxer shorts.

The 29-year-old was left in a coma for four months, suffered extensive burns to his body, was left blind in one eye, paralysed from the neck down and had to have his lower left leg amputated.

He died by euthanasia at a hospital in Belgium on January 2 in 2017, after suffering 15 months of excruciating pain.

A jury of 10 men and two women at Bristol Crown Court acquitted Wallace of Mr van Dongen's murder and manslaughter following a four-week trial.

A body map which was shown in the court case (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)
A body map which was shown in the court case (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

They unanimously convicted Wallace of throwing a corrosive substance with intent after 15 hours and 30 minutes of deliberations.

Speaking outside the court, Mr van Dongen's father Cornelius van Dongen paid tribute to his son and "best friend".

"Mark was so brave when confronted with the hellish pain and disabilities inflicted upon him, but eventually it became too much for him to bear," he said.

"He died in dignity and will live on in the hearts of his family and friends. The court process was a difficult and emotional experience.

"I am very disappointed in the outcome of this trial. There are only losers in this case. I hope that Mark can now rest in peace."

Bedding at the scene of the attack (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)
Bedding at the scene of the attack (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

Following the conviction, Avon and Somerset Police released a picture of the aftermath of the acid attack - showing the burned sheets that Mr van Dongen had been sleeping in.

The incident followed the break-down of Mr van Dongen's five-year relationship with Wallace, in which she was controlling and abusive.

Bristol Crown Court heard Wallace kept the 6ft 5ins engineer's passport and used his £300-per-day wages to fund herself and her family in South Africa.

She repeatedly injured herself and threatened to tell police that Mr van Dongen had caused the injuries if he ever left her.

On at least one occasion, she poured boiling water on him, and following their separation made 14 silent phone calls to his new girlfriend, Violet Farquharson.

As part of her desperate attempts to win Mr van Dongen back, Wallace falsely claimed that her ex-husband had suffered a heart attack and was in a critical condition.

When that failed, Wallace purchased a litre of 98% sulphuric acid on Amazon for £17.07 and spent days researching the effects of it.

Cornelius Van Dongen (right) with his son Mark (Family handout/PA)
Cornelius Van Dongen (right) with his son Mark (Family handout/PA)

Part of her research involved viewing YouTube videos of a toddler who had accidentally drank the substance, as well as post-mortem images of a man who ingested it.

She developed her defence case for the trial - claiming that Mr van Dongen had tried to trick her into thinking the acid was water to drink - after reading about a previous court case.

Detective Inspector Paul Catton said Wallace's "cowardly attack" on Mr van Dongen was due to her jealousy.

"Mark van Dongen did not want to end his life - he did so because the pain and suffering he endured as a result of Berlinah Wallace's actions was simply too much to bear," he said.

"Mark endured more than a year of torture before his death and the suffering Wallace's actions caused him and his family is simply unimaginable."

Mr van Dongen's application for assisted suicide was authorised by courts in Belgium, which ruled it was a case of "unbearable physical and psychological suffering".

Before his death, he recorded two video interviews from his hospital bed - helping to secure Wallace's conviction almost two years later.

The jury also heard how Mr van Dongen told a carer: "I don't want to be here. I want to die. Look at my face.

"I'm never going to be able to do anything for myself. No-one will ever employ me. I'm not the man I used to be."

Mrs Justice Davies, trial judge, adjourned the case until Tuesday, when she will hear submissions from prosecution and defence teams.

She will pass sentence, which she described as "significant" on Wednesday.

The decision to charge Wallace with murder was taken to the Court of Appeal, where judges ruled that it should be put before a jury.

A Domestic Homicide Review will now examine the lead up to Mr van Dongen's death. He had previously reported Wallace to police for harassment.