Woman accused of pouring sulphuric acid over ex-boyfriend cried, 'If I can't have you no one can', court hears

Berlinah Wallace, 48, on trial in Bristol over death of 29-year-old Mark Van Dongen, who subsequently ended his own life at euthanasia clinic due to extent of injuries

Sarah Ward
Thursday 09 November 2017 10:44
Berlinah Wallace
Berlinah Wallace

A scorned woman murdered her ex-boyfriend by pouring sulphuric acid over him and laughed: “if I can't have you no-one can”, a court heard on Wednesday.

Jealous Berlinah Wallace, 48, threw the corrosive substance in the face of Mark van Dongen that covered most of his body.

He suffered 25 percent burns and suffered such serious injuries he was left paralysed - only able to move his tongue, Mark, 29, lost a leg, his left eye, and most of the sight in his right eye following the sulphuric acid attack, Bristol Crown Court heard.

Civil engineer Mark was left wanting to end his life and eventually successfully applied for euthanasia and died 15 months after the attack.

Wallace carried out the attack out of jealousy after the couple split up and Mark 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.

Fashion student Wallace denies murder and applying a corrosive fluid after pouring acid over Mark van Dongen at 3am on 23 September 2015. Adam Vaitlingam QC, prosecuting, said: “The defendant had bought a bottle of sulphuric acid, which she bought online from Amazon.

Mark Van Dongen

“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, Mark, a Dutch national, told colleagues that Wallace had been violent towards him, and “seemed genuinely scared.”

The couple appeared to rekindle their romance, exchanging loving messages promising to try to make the relationship work again on 22 September, 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.

Court artist sketch of Berlinah Wallace

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 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 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 skin had to be surgically removed.

Mark“s left leg was amputated below the knee and he lost the vision in his left eye and was partially sighted in his right eye.

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.”

On November 22 2016 a care home in Gloucester was found and it was understood Mark would require a “lifetime of constant and dedicated care.”

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.

Doctors there confirmed he 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 Mark's life was taken on 2 January 2017.

Mark Van Dongen

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.”

Mark gave evidence from beyond the grave on Wednesday - as a video was played to the jury of him giving a statement to police.

The film shows Mark describing the attack and saying it happened because she was jealous he had left her.

In the film Mark is seen lying in a hospital bed with his face and chest severely burnt and disfigured.

He was interviewed by Detective constable Sue Pesticcio, part of the Major Crime Team in Bristol, on 6 July 2016.

Speaking in the 26-minute interview, Mark confirmed his date of birth and address.

Conducted in English without an interpreter, he sometimes struggled to make himself understood and several times DC Pesticcio asked him to repeat what he had said.

When asked what time he arrived home in the hours before the attack, Mark 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, Mark 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, it was square box of acid with about an inch of acid in it. I only went back because I felt sorry for her

“Yeah I was running on the street… 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.

“Cause an acid that strong a UK person cannot buy it in the shop. In a list of only certified people can buy it.”

He described the container 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.”

Mark said he believed Wallace went to a park rather than a hotel, and returned about midnight.

He said again: “Wakes me up and says 'if I can't have you no one can' and then she laughed and threw the acid.'”

In the harrowing witness statement, Mark told how he knew straight away it was acid “because it was burning like fire.”

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.“

Court artist sketch of Berlinah Wallace

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.”

Mark said: “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.”

A year before the acid attack, Wallace poured boiling water over Mark during a petty argument, he told police in the video.

In a second interview Mark 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.

The couple had a good relationship with Wallace's ex-husband Ray, and Mark said he thought his attacker tried to make it seem that she was being beaten up.

“Then we would go and visit Ray and then she would sit in the house with her sunglasses on so maybe Ray would think I hit her or something, I don't know,” he said.

“And when we went there to visit she would put on her sunglasses in the living room so it looked like that I have hit her but that she was trying to hide it or something.

“I think that after she did that she was quite embarrassed that she used to do that.”

He told police of one occasion where Wallace accused Mark of cheating after she spotted a Costa Coffee bill on a bank statement and was angry for two weeks.

Wallace would hide his passport, and did so the week of the acid attack, the court heard, so he could not book a flight to Holland or a hotel.

He said this had happened in the days before 23 September.

Mark said: “Yeah I was looking for it the whole week but I couldn't find it because I had already moved out of the apartment.

“I only came back because I felt sorry for her but I knew that she had my passport.”

The interview was carried out on 28 July at Southmead Hospital and he urged officers to look into GP records for the boiling water attack as the burns were obscured by the acid injuries.

The case is being presided over by The Honourable Justice May DBE.

The defendant faces two charges.

One of murder and one of applying a corrosive fluid.

She denies both.

SWNS