The father of man who was left almost completely paralysed after an acid attack has told a court how his son spelled out the name of his attacker using just his tongue.
Mark van Dongen ended his own life in a euthanasia clinic 15 months after suffering such serious injuries he was paralysed from the head down.
His ex-girlfriend Berlinah Wallace, 48, denies murder and throwing a corrosive fluid with the intention to burn, main, disfigure, disable or do GBH, following the incident in Bristol in 2015.
Van Dongen’s father Cornelius – also known as Kees – attended the trial at Bristol Crown Court on Thursday.
Using a Dutch interpreter, Kees told the jury his son had been raised in Holland and came to England when he was 22, firstly as a student and then graduating as a civil engineer.
Kees said: “I knew he was HIV positive and took medication for that, which was entirely under control. His health and mental health was 100 per cent.”
Kees travelled straight from Belgium to the UK after the incident and spent four months learning to communicate with his son, via a sheet of paper with the alphabet on for van Dongen to indicate letters with his tongue.
The 29-year-old used that alphabet to spell “Berlinah”, when asked who had attacked him, Kees told the court.
He said that when his son regained speech, he claimed he was in bed when Wallace, shouted: “She will not have my life! If I cannot get it no-one else will get it!”
Wallace, who is South African, is alleged to have carried out the attack out of jealousy after the couple split up and van Dongen began seeing another woman, the court heard.
Van Dongen lost a leg, his left eye and most of the sight in his right eye following the attack.
Kees explained there had been a time after the attack when he would hold his son’s hand and upon asking him if he could feel it, van Dongen would reply by tickling him.
But as time passed his son lost the use of his arm and fingers, which made him “incredibly disappointed,” he told the court.
The jury was told van Dongen had a tube in his throat for a long time, which had to be taken out when he was transferred to a burns department for physiotherapy.
“He was looking forwards to the physiotherapy, that is what mattered to him. It was a big step forward,” Kees recalled.
He added: “He wanted to stay in England, he was always happy in England and met a girlfriend here.”
After hospital treatment in 2016 Mark was transferred to a care home in Gloucester with 24/7 care, the court heard.
Kees said: “He wanted to return to a normal life, that is what he wanted. He wanted me to return to work. He called me and he was very distressed. So I got in my car and drove straight to Bristol. (from Belgium)
“I thought I would spend an hour napping in my car. I heard Mark scream so I rang the bell and at one point they opened the door. Mark was lying there in his own faeces and no-one wanted to help him. I go towels from my car and washed him.”
It was after that Kees transferred his son from Gloucester to a hospital in Belgium. He said the Belgian nurses had to take time to get used to the way his son looked.
Kees said: “I spent 23-and-a-half hours a day with him until he died.”
There, Van Dongen was told his paralysis was permanent, which was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, his father told the jury.
Kees said: “He completed his application for euthanasia. He said that ‘my life has come to nothing, there’s nothing left of it, if I come with you there’s just a different ceiling to look at, that’s all’.”
After three weeks in the Belgium hospital van Dongen developed a lung infection, which became acute.
Doctors agreed on euthanasia on January 2 this year, at 7.15pm, with his father present.
Kees said he had treated Wallace like his own daughter.
He said: “First of all I refused to believe that she could have done it. There was no need for her to be jealous, Mark was in love with her. I always thought he was more in love with her than she was with him.
“In the last six months Mark called the police several times, but he got no support from the police. He was scared, he was afraid, of her. You can see what happened.”
Wallace claims it was van Dongen who poured acid into a glass and encouraged her to drink it. Richard Smith QC, defending, said Wallace had not realised it was acid and that when she threw the contents over him and that she believed it contained water.
The first person to go to van Dongen’s aid after the attack was a neighbour who initially thought the “agonised” sounds he was making was foxes fighting.
Thomas Sweet ran out of his house with a golf club after being disturbed by the noises between 2am and 3am on September 23, 2015.
He told the court: “Initially I thought it was foxes fighting. It went on for about ten seconds before it was evident it was a person.”
Sweet realised he had heard the words “help me” in an “agonised” male voice and went to the end of his road.
He said: “He was talking about acid. Initially I thought he had taken LSD and was having a bad time on it.”
Van Dongen was covered in what looked like grey paint, the witness said, and he added: “I thought maybe he had been at a party or at a rave. But then I realised it wasn’t.”
Sweet dialled 999 and later gave a statement to police, and said at the time: “In the shower he said ‘this bitch, this bitch did it to me. My ex did it.’”
Another neighbour, Dr Nicola White, recalled how the following day when she looked at her “tarnished” doorbell, she could see that whatever was on van Dongen’s hand had corroded it.
She said: “I was trying to work out why he looked like he had been dipped in clay. He was grey from the head to the chest.”
Giving evidence, another witness Eleanor Elcott added: “I could hear wailing and the words ‘help me, I’m going to fucking die.’”
The trial continues.