A scorned woman allegedly murdered her ex-boyfriend by pouring sulphuric acid over him and laughed: “If I can’t have you no one can”.
Berlinah Wallace, 48, is said to have thrown the corrosive substance in the face of Mark van Dongen, during an argument in 2015.
He suffered 25 percent burns and such serious injuries he was left paralysed and only able to move his tongue.
The 29-year-old also lost a leg, his left eye, and most of the sight in his right eye following the attack, Bristol Crown Court heard on Wednesday.
The civil engineer was left wanting to end his life and successfully applied for euthanasia, dying 15 months after the attack.
Wallace carried out the attack out of jealousy after the couple split up and van Dongen began seeing another woman, the court was told.
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, it is alleged.
Fashion student Wallace denies murder and applying a corrosive fluid after pouring acid over van Dongen at 3am on September 23, 2015.
Adam Vaitlingam QC, prosecuting, said: “The defendant had bought a bottle of sulphuric acid. 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.
“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.
Shortly before his death, van Dongen, a Dutch national, is alleged to have told colleagues Wallace had been violent towards him, and “seemed genuinely scared.”
The couple had 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.
Van Dongen 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 had planned to cook dinner together when van Dongen 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 3am, Wallace returned to the flat and tossed a glass of acid over van Dongen, who was lying in bed wearing just his boxer shorts, it is alleged. After the attack, horrified neighbours took him into a flat and got him to stand under a shower at the advice of paramedics.
Van Dongen 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 it to distress some fabric,’ and indicated to the glass, cloth and paintbrush on the floor.”
A police officer who accompanied van Dongen 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 van Dongen 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.
Van Dongen 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.
The burns covered 25 per cent of his body and parts of his skin had to be surgically removed. Van Dongen’s left leg was amputated below the knee. He lost the vision in his left eye and was left partially-sighted in his right eye. He eventually regained speech but was permanently paralysed from the neck down.
Van Dongen fell into a depression and, Mr Vaitlingam said: “Sometimes he said he wanted to live, at other times that he wanted to die.”
On November 22 2016 a care home in Gloucester was found and it was understood he would require a “lifetime of constant and dedicated care.” He told his father he wanted to return to Belgium and an ambulance was hired to take him to the Maria Hospital in Overpelt.
Doctors there confirmed van Dongen was paralysed for life and taking maximum doses of pain relief. He applied for euthanasia, which was approved after three consultants examined him.
It was decided this was a case of “unbearable physical and psychological suffering” and van Dongen’s life ended on January 2, 2017.
In a police interview Wallace claimed van Dongen 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.”
Richard Smith QC, defending, said Wallace claimed it was van Dongen 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.”
Victim’s video testimony
A video was played to the jury of van Dongen giving a statement to police. It showed him lying in a hospital bed with his face and chest severely burnt and disfigured, around a year after the attack.
When asked what time he arrived home in the hours before the attack, van Dongen said: “About 6pm. Yeah because she was calling me, crying that she wanted to have money to go back to South Africa. I went back because I felt sorry for her.”
When asked if it was money to buy a ‘place’ in South Africa, he said: “No, money to buy a plane ticket to go to South Africa.”
Recalling the moment Wallace entered the bedroom they shared, van Dongen said: “She woke me up and said that ‘If I can’t have you no one can.’
“And she laughed and just threw the acid.”
He described the container holding the acid as a Tupperware box, about 20cm x 20cm and 15cm deep, 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. 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.”
When asked if there had ever been sulphuric acid in the flat he said: “Why would we have acid at home? You can’t do anything with it unless you are a company dealing with car batteries.”
And when asked who bought it, he said: “Oh she will have bought that. Using my account ’cause she always used my account because she did not work.”
He added: “She started arguing with text messages and messaging me.
“I already had a friendly conversation then she was pestering me on the phone earlier in the month. I went to the police... and they got her a…what to do you call it...uh...I don’t know but that if she were to do it again she would be arrested.”
The trial continues.