Engineer 'wanted to die' after ex-girlfriend threw sulphuric acid in his face, court hears

Berlinah Wallace, 48, accused of disfiguring Mark Van Dongen, 29, with corrosive substance after he broke up with her, prompting him to end his life at Belgian euthanasia clinic

Claire Hayhurst,Rod Minchin
Tuesday 14 November 2017 10:49
Mark Van Dongen
Mark Van Dongen

The girlfriend of an engineer has told a murder trial he said “I just want to die” after his former partner threw acid over his face and body.

Mark Van Dongen, 29, was left paralysed from the neck down, scarred and all but blinded by the incident in September 2015.

Bristol Crown Court heard that his ex-partner Berlinah Wallace, 48, told him: “If I can't have you, no one else can,” before throwing sulphuric acid over him.

Mr Van Dongen ran out into the street in the Westbury Park area of Bristol, screaming with pain, before a neighbour took him to a nearby flat and called 999.

The Dutch-born civil engineer suffered 15 months of agony before dying at a euthanasia clinic in Belgium in January this year, the jury heard.

Wallace, who claims she thought she was throwing a glass of water over Mr Van Dongen, denies murder and applying a corrosive fluid.

Mr Van Dongen's girlfriend Violent Farquharson told the trial he had come to her home on the evening of 22 September, before going to see Wallace.

“He basically said that he didn't want to be with her, he wanted to be with me and he talked a bit more about going forward, about our relationship and what our goals were as a couple,” Miss Farquharson said.

“He said, 'I'm going to go back to her flat, I'm going to see that she's OK'.”

Mr Van Dongen told Miss Farquharson he would not return that evening but would see her in a few days.

He left to go to Wallace's flat at 10pm and argued with the fashion student, who told him she would go and stay in a hotel, the court heard.

At about 3am on 23 September, Wallace allegedly shook Mr Van Dongen awake and threw acid over his face and body.

Miss Farquharson went to hospital after being informed by police that her boyfriend had been attacked.

“He was being rushed off to theatre so I saw him literally for a split-second,” she told the jury.

“He was crying out in pain so much that he didn't know I was there.”

Asked if he said anything, Miss Farquharson replied: “I just want to die”.

She said she visited Mr Van Dongen in hospital almost every day, initially communicating with him through an alphabet chart to spell out words.

In July last year, Miss Farquharson asked Mr Van Dongen what happened on the night he was allegedly attacked.

“He was woken up by her and she basically said, 'if I can't have you no-one else can', then she poured the acid over him,” she told the court.

Mr Van Dongen was transferred from a care home in Gloucester to a hospital in Belgium in November last year.

Miss Farquharson said she visited Mr Van Dongen in Belgium in December and he “was happy” to see her.

She planned to see him in the new year but her messages went unanswered until she heard from his family in January that he had died.

Mr Van Dongen, who died on 2 January, did not tell Miss Farquharson he was applying for euthanasia.

The couple met in August 2015 after chatting online. Mr Van Dongen had been in a relationship with Wallace, who was 18 years his senior, since about 2010.

Jurors have heard 999 calls he made to Avon and Somerset Police, complaining that Wallace was harassing him and making silent calls to Miss Farquharson.

Around that time, Wallace allegedly bought sulphuric acid online.

Shaun Groves, a criminal intelligence analyst, examined data taken from Wallace's mobile phone and laptop.

He said her phone contained two images of Miss Farquharson, taken from her WhatsApp profile picture.

Wallace's devices made a number of Google searches in the days leading up to the alleged attack, Mr Groves said..

These included “how to talk to an ex-boyfriend about getting back together” and “what to talk about with ex-boyfriend”.

On 14 September, searches included “I don't want to live anyway”, “what happens when you swallow sulphuric acid” and “can I die drinking sulphuric acid”.

The trial continues.