I should warn you that you’re about to read one of the saddest stories ever told.
‘She laughed and just threw it’: Acid attack victim who took 15 months to die in agony tells murder trial from beyond the grave how his ex-lover, 48, ‘maimed him so no one else could have him’
Bristol, England – The victim of an acid attack gave evidence from beyond the grave in a ground-breaking murder trial this week – telling how his ex-girlfriend laughed before dousing him in a corrosive liquid.
Mark Van Dongen, 29, was paralysed from the neck down, suffered extensive burns, had his left leg amputated and struggled to speak after the attack by Berlinah Wallace, 48, in Bristol.
Prosecutors say that, despite the victim having later died at a euthanasia clinic in Belgium, the acid attack led directly to his death and have charged Berlinah with murder.
As part of the evidence in her highly unusual trial, the jury was shown footage of Mark being interviewed by police before his death.
Describing the attack, he told a British detective: ‘She woke me up and said that “If I can’t have you no one can”.
‘And she laughed and just threw the acid, it was a square box of acid with about an inch of acid in it. I only went back because I felt sorry for her.’
Mark, an engineer, was seen running from his home ‘screaming in agony’ after the alleged attack on September 23, 2015.
He was horrifically scarred and spent 14 months on a ventilator in Bristol’s Southmead Hospital before he was moved to Belgium where three doctors agreed his pain was ‘unbearable’ and he died in a euthanasia clinic, near his father’s home, on January 2, 2017.
Footage of the interview with the victim, shown at Bristol Crown Court today, showed Mark lying in a hospital bed with his face and chest severely burnt and disfigured.
He told the officer: ‘I was running in my boxer shorts. They fell off because the acid eating away.
‘And then I met my upstairs neighbour and she took me in her house and got the police.’
When asked if he knew where Wallace had got the acid from, Mark said: ‘No. She bought it online, that’s what I heard.’
He described the container as a Tupperware box filled with an inch of liquid.
Asked if he knew why Wallace did it, Mark said: ‘Yes. Because she was jealous. Because I left her a month before this happened.
Why a murder charge?
Mark van Dongen died in a euthanasia clinic over a year after he was burned with acid.
But prosecutors say that, despite this, the acid attack led directly to his death – and have therefore charged Wallace with murder.
Adam Vaitlingam QC, prosecuting, will argue that Wallace intended to cause van Dongen grievous bodily harm.
‘I promised to pay money into her account until she finished university. I made first payment of £750 into her account and I was still paying £250 a week after that.
‘And I didn’t even need to because we weren’t married that was pure goodwill and now she chooses to do this.’
In the weeks before the attack Wallace carried out internet searches including ‘can I die from drinking sulphuric acid?’ and searched for graphic images of acid attack victims, the court heard.
Describing the attack, Adam Vaitlingam QC, prosecuting, said: ‘The defendant had bought a bottle of sulphuric acid, which she bought online from Amazon.
‘At around 3am, as Mark was sleeping in bed, she poured the acid into a glass.
‘She then went into the bedroom, and woke him up. She laughed and said ‘if I can’t have you no-one will’ and she threw the glass of sulphuric acid into his face.
Van Dongen’s pain was said to be ‘unbearable’ before he died at a euthanasia clinic in his father’s home country of Belgium
‘It covered his face and parts of his upper body and dripped onto his lower body as he moved.
‘Covered in burning acid, Mark ran out into the street in his boxer shorts, screaming for help.’
The court heard couple had a five-year-relationship and lived together but it hit the rocks when Mark began seeing another woman in August 2015.
Attacker ‘had poured boiling water on victim in previous assault’
A year before the acid attack, Wallace poured boiling water over Mark during a petty argument, he told police in a recorded interview.
He told officers of how Wallace subjected him to domestic violence and made it appear he was abusing her by punching herself in the face.
He told them Wallace would stand in front of a mirror punching herself in the face, even giving herself a black eye – then threaten to tell police he had hit her if he tried to leave.
The allegations spanned more than a year and included accusations that Wallace would hide his passport to prevent him going back home to Holland and did so the week of the acid attackHe said this had happened in the days before September 23.
Mark said: ‘I was looking for it the whole week but I couldn’t find it.
‘I only came back because I felt sorry for her, but I knew that she had my passport.”
In the interview, carried out at Southmead Hospital, he urged officers to look into GP records for the boiling water attack.’
Shortly before his death, Mark, a Dutch national, told colleagues that Wallace had been violent towards him, and ‘seemed genuinely scared.’
The defendant not only purchased a bottle of sulphuric acid on Amazon but began searching for news stories about the victims of acid attacks, the court heard.
The couple appeared to rekindle their romance, exchanging loving messages promising to try to make the relationship work again on September 22, the day before the attack.
Mark sent her a message saying: ‘I love you, I always have. I’m truly sorry for what I’ve done, we need to work on our relationship.
‘You and me are meant to be. I’ve always known that. I will treat you as you deserve to be treated. You are my princess.’
Wallace replied: ‘It means a lot hearing these words. You are the love of my life. God does not make a mistake in this. I love you with all my heart.’
The couple planned to cook dinner together when Mark returned to work, but that evening he went out to see his new girlfriend Violet Farquharson, the court heard.
The pair argued when he returned to Wallace’s flat in Bristol, at 10pm and she told him she would stay in a hotel that night, the court heard.
But at 3 a.m., Wallace returned to the flat and tossed a glass of acid over Mark, who was lying in bed wearing just his boxer shorts, it is alleged.
He ran out into the street screaming where horrified neighbours took him into a flat and got him to stand under a shower at the advice of paramedics.
Mark was rushed to Southmead Hospital in Bristol, and asked paramedics to ‘please check that my girlfriend is OK’ – fearing Wallace would target Violet next.
Mr Vaitlingam said: ‘They could see Mark had severe burns – they said it looked as though he had had grey coloured paint poured over him and that the acid had burned through the top layer of skin.
‘He kept saying he couldn’t see and asked if he still had eyelids.’
Police arrived to find Wallace sitting on the sofa in the living room and noted there was a glass beer mug on the floor next to a piece of cloth and what appeared to be an artist’s paintbrush.
Mr Vaitlingam added: ‘The defendant was asked what the substance was that had injured Mark and she said ‘Acid. I was using to to distress some fabric’ and indicated to the glass, cloth and paintbrush on the floor.’
A police officer who accompanied Mark in the ambulance recalled how he screamed in pain for the entire journey, and radioed ahead to ask for officers to visit Violet.
Emergency consultant Dr Rachel Oaten said Mark screamed ‘kill me now, if my face is left looking like this. I don’t want to live.’ when he caught sight of himself in a mirror.
Mark who was left paralysed and disfigured after an acid attack allegedly carried out by his jealous ex-girlfriend died in a euthanasia clinic 15 months later having decided he could not face a life of pain, her murder trial has been told…
The burns on Mark covered 25% of his body and skin had to be surgically removed. He also lost a leg, his left eye and most of the sight in his right eye and was left paralysed.
Mark was kept in an isolated ward in ICU for six months before being moved to a burns ward, spending a total of 14 months at Southmead.
He eventually regained speech but was permanently paralysed from the neck down.
Mark fell into a depression and, Mr Vaitlingam said: ‘Sometimes he said he wanted to live, at other times that he wanted to die.’
He told his father he wanted to return to Belgium and his father hired an ambulance to take him to the Maria Hospital in Overpelt. There he successfully applied for euthanasia.
Three Doctors there confirmed he would be paralysed for life and need maximum doses of pain relief.
On November 22 2016, it was found and understood that Mark would require a ‘lifetime of constant and dedicated care.’
It was decided his was a case of “unbearable physical and psychological suffering” and he died in January 2017, at age 29.
Berlinah’s version of events
In a police interview Wallace claimed Mark assaulted her and she poured the liquid over him as a response to his aggression.
‘She said it was he who had poured the acid into the glass, encouraging her to drink it with her tablets, but that she had not realised it was acid,’ Mr Vaitlingam added.
‘When she threw the contents of the glass over him, she believed it was water she was throwing.’
The court heard both Wallace and Mark were HIV positive and had been together for five years.
Richard Smith QC, defending, said Wallace claimed it was Mark who put the acid in the glass and urged her to drink it, and that she never left the flat that evening.
Mr Smith said: ‘It is Berlinah Wallace’s case that that evening as he had often done before, Mark had encouraged her to consider drinking the sulphuric acid they had bought for clearing the drains.’
The trial continues.