Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Berlinah Wallace cleared of murder after acid attack on ex-boyfriend Mark van Dongen

  • Video report by ITV News West of England Correspondent Rupert Evelyn

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

Fashion student Berlinah Wallace, 48, meticulously researched the effects of sulphuric acid before purchasing a bottle and throwing it over Mark van Dongen, 29, in September 2015.

Following 15 months of agony, Mr van Dongen chose to end his life by euthanasia at a hospital in Belgium on January 2 in 2017.

Bristol Crown Court heard that Wallace, described as controlling, jealous and vindictive, attacked the engineer at her flat in Westbury Park, Bristol, after he left her for another woman.

Mr van Dongen's heartbroken father Cornelius paid tribute to his son. Credit: Family handout

The court heard that Wallace laughed as she told him: "If I can't have you, no-one else can" during the attack.

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

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.

Mark van Dongen and Berlinah Wallace in happier times. Credit: Family handout

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.

Ms Wallace could not explain why the label had been removed from the bottle of acid. Credit: Avon and Somerset Police

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 claimed that Mr van Dongen had tried to trick her into thinking the acid was water to drink after reading about a previous court case.

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."

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".

A jury of 10 men and two women acquitted Wallace of Mr van Dongen’s murder or manslaughter but found her guilty of throwing a corrosive substance with intent.

The unanimous verdict was delivered on Thursday afternoon following 15 hours and 30 minutes of deliberations.