A fashion student has been found not guilty of murdering her ex-boyfriend who died by euthanasia after she threw acid over him as he lay sleeping.
Acid-burned bed where woman disfigured her boyfriend so catastrophically he took his own life in a suicide clinic – but she’s CLEARED of murder
Berlinah Wallace, 48, was acquitted of murder but found guilty of throwing a corrosive substance with intent at Bristol Crown Court today
Berlinah Wallace, 48, meticulously researched the effects of sulphuric acid before purchasing a bottle and hurling it over Mark van Dongen.
She was accused of killing the 29-year-old by leaving him with such catastrophic injuries that he chose to end his life in a clinic in Belgium.
This afternoon, Wallace was acquitted of his murder – but found guilty of throwing a corrosive substance with intent at Bristol Crown Court.
The court heard that she attacked Mr van Dongen at her flat in Westbury Park, Bristol, after he left her for another woman.
Mark van Dongen, 29, died by euthanasia at a clinic in Belgium (Image: SWNS.com)
She had claimed she thought she was throwing a glass of water over the engineer as he lay in bed at the property in September 2015.
Mr van Dongen was left paralysed, scarred, had his lower left leg amputated and lost the sight in his left eye, as well as most of the sight in his right eye, following the incident.
He died abroad by euthanasia in January last year.
Mr van Dongen’s agonised shouts can be heard in the background of a 999 call made by a Good Samaritan neighbour who went to his aid moments after he was doused in acid.
Wailing could be heard in the background, and then distraught Mark can be heard saying: “Somebody threw acid…somebody threw acid.”
The neighbour tells the operator: “Somebody threw acid over his face.”
This shocking photo, released by police today, shows how the acid burnt the white bedsheets black (Image: Avon and Somerset Police)
Police released shocking images of the bedroom where Mr van Dongen was splashed with acid. The corrosive liquid burnt the white bedsheets black.
Dutch-born Mr van Dongen helped secure her conviction from beyond the grave. He was so left seriously injured that it was nearly 10 months before he was able to tell police what happened.
Speaking from his bed in Bristol’s Southmead Hospital in July 2016, Mr van Dongen told officers about the difficulties he and Wallace had in their relationship and how she would injure herself and threaten to claim that he had done it.
He said he had gone to Wallace’s flat because he felt sorry for her and because she had his passport.
He told police he woke at 3am on September 23, 2015 to hear Wallace, from South Africa, laugh and tell him “if I can’t have you, no-one else can” before throwing the acid.
In the prosecution’s closing speech, Adam Vaitilingam QC had told the jury that Wallace had become “jealous and vindictive” when her five-year relationship with Mr van Dongen came to an end.
A similar bottle of the acid used by Wallace
He said: “In her darker moments, she bought a bottle of sulphuric acid. She removed the label and she read up about attacks with sulphuric acid.
“Mr van Dongen told people that she had a violent temper and he told people he was scared of her.”
Counselling staff at the University of the West of England, where Wallace had studied fashion, told of her problems with controlling emotions.
In one consultation, Wallace was noted to have described “an adrenaline rise when someone says the wrong thing and she feels like she could destroy everything around her”.
Mr Vaitilingam told the jury: “That’s what happened in this case. In the early hours of September 23, Mr van Dongen did say the wrong thing.
“He told her that the relationship was over and she destroyed him. She wanted to be sure that he could never have another relationship again.”
This bodymap, released by police today, depicts the acid burns suffered by Mr van Dongen (Image: Avon and Somerset Police)
Mr van Dongen had moved in with new girlfriend Violet Farquharson, 46, but returned to stay with Wallace on September 22.
Neighbours dialled be after Mr van Dongen, clad only in boxer shorts, ran into the street screaming in agony at about 3am on September 23.
Wallace had deleted more than 80 websites from her browsing history for the weeks leading up to the incident, with “half or more” relating to acid attacks.
“She was fascinated by those sites about people getting attacked with acid,” Mr Vaitilingam told the jury.
He added: “It is no coincidence that the person who was so interested in acid attacks was about to carry out one of her own.”
Wallace denied murdering Mr van Dongen, as well as throwing a corrosive substance with intent. She claimed her former partner had tried to trick her into drinking the acid by placing it in a water glass by her bed.
She may have come up with this defence after reading about a court case of a man who allegedly tricked his partner in that way, Mr Vaitilingam said.
The prosecutor described the 15 months between the alleged attack and Mr van Dongen, who suffered 25 per cent burns, undergoing euthanasia as “a long, slow and agonising process”.
Richard Smith QC, representing Wallace, said Mr van Dongen had not been able to tell the truth about what happened without implicating himself.
“He has inflicted it on himself because he filled the glass,” he told the jury.
He said Mr van Dongen lied repeatedly, played “mind games” with Wallace and had been violent towards her.
Mr Smith described the case as “extraordinarily unusual” due to his client facing a murder charge following euthanasia.
“The person who actually took the life of Mr van Dongen is an unnamed, unidentified doctor in Belgium,” he told the jury.
Mr Smith said the prosecution case that Wallace was responsible for murder is “fundamentally an incorrect approach”.
The doctor’s act in inserting a catheter into Mr van Dongen’s heart “intervened and breaks her responsibility”, he said.
Jurors had retired to consider their verdicts on Monday.
Mrs Justice Nicola Davies had told the 10 men and two women at the time: “You must reach, if you can, a unanimous verdict.
“As you know, the law allows me in certain circumstances to accept a verdict which is not the verdict of you all.
“Those circumstances have not arisen, so when you retire I ask you to reach a verdict on which each of you is agreed.”
The unanimous verdict was delivered this afternoon following 15 hours and 30 minutes of deliberations.
Detective Inspector Paul Catton of Avon and Somerset Police said: “Mark van Dongen suffered the most inconceivable pain imaginable following what was a cowardly attack borne out of jealousy.
“He went from being a healthy young man with his whole life ahead of him to having extensive and repeated surgery on the most hideous injuries just to keep him alive.
Wallace claimed Mr van Dongen had tried to trick her into drinking the acid
“In the end, his pain was so devastating, so catastrophic, he sought the assistance of doctors to help him die.
“While the jury has concluded Wallace’s actions did not amount to murder, we felt it was the right thing to do to ask them to consider the charge based on the evidence.”
A Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) will now look at the circumstances which led up to Mr van Dongen’s death.
The victim’s injuries were so severe that Detective Inspector Catton didn’t show photos of them to the members of his investigation team.
The officer kept the images under lock and key.
Before Thursday’s outcome, Mr van Dongen’s younger brother, Bartje, told ITV News that the family have been torn apart over the incident.
He said: “I think that night he lost everything he can lose. If you burn you can do nothing anymore. Lots of pain every day … for what you want to live?”
Bartje said his grief-stricken father attended every day of the trial and looks “30 years older”.
He added: “My father lost everything.”
Acid attack victim’s agonising screams heard in harrowing 999 call
Mark Van Dongen’s agonising shouts can be heard in the background of a 999 call made by a Good Samaritan who went to his aid.
Moments after he was doused in acid by ex-partner Berlinah Wallace, Mr van Dongen ran out onto the street dressed in just his boxer shorts and screaming for help.
In the recording, the neighbour who dialled 999 can be heard telling the call-handler about the harrowing scene.
He told the operator: “I’m on Berkeley Road, in Westbury Park.
Mr van Dongen suffered 15 months of pain before he died by euthanasia
“At the very bottom of the road, I heard shouting in my garden, there is a gentleman shouting for help.”
Wailing could be heard in the background, while the man making the phone call tells Mr van Dongen: “It’s OK.”
The neighbour continued: “Basically I was in my garden having a cigarette I heard a gentleman shouting from a distance away.
“I went out into my road to investigate but basically he was just shouting for help.”
The call-handler asked him to speak to Mr van Dongen and find out what had happened.
The neighbour said: “I’m not sure, excuse me, hello, hello? What’s happened?”
Distraught Mr van Dongen can be heard saying: “Somebody threw acid…somebody threw acid…”
The neighbour continues: “Somebody threw acid over his face.”
He then turns to Mr van Dongen and asks: “Who did this to you?”
The victim’s voice rose in pitch as he said: “My ex. My ex.”
He became hysterical when asked if she was nearby, and said: “I don’t know.”
Mr van Dongen’s family have described the “hellish pain” he was in after acid was thrown over him.
His brother Bartje launched a JustGiving page to provide financial support to their father, Cornelius van Dongen, who lives on the Dutch-Belgium border and frequently travelled to Bristol to care for his son before he was transferred to a hospital in Belgium.
He told ITV News that their father “lost his house” and “lost his money” while travelling back and forth and caring for his son.
Bartje van Dongen wrote of his brother on the JustGiving: “The continuous itching of his scars drove him out of his mind.
“Also, the acid had done serious harm to his bones, which put him through hellish pain.”
Fashion student repeatedly lied about victim’s feelings towards her
Emails that proved Berlinah Wallace repeatedly lied about Mark van Dongen’s feelings towards her in the days before the attack can now be reported for the first time.
The emails, dated September 1 2015, were sent to Mr van Dongen as part of Wallace’s campaign to rekindle their relationship.
In evidence, Wallace claimed Mr van Dongen was desperately trying to win her back and repeatedly begged her to let him return to her home in Westbury Park, Bristol.
But in a 999 call to police on September 2, Mr van Dongen said he had only spoken to Wallace as he was concerned for her welfare.
Wallace had claimed she thought she was throwing a glass of water over the engineer
That day, Wallace ordered the sulphuric acid she later threw over Mr van Dongen.
It can now be reported that Wallace sent two emails on September 1 to Mr van Dongen, stating that her ex-husband Ray Wallace had suffered a heart attack.
The emails, sent at 3.02pm and 3.09pm, read: “Please call me. Don’t abandon me like this. You are all I have. Ray has had heart attack. In critical shape.”
Trial judge Mrs Justice Nicola Davies ruled the emails could not be shown to the jury.
This was because they were not disclosed to Wallace’s defence team until she was midway through giving evidence.
By that time, Wallace had already insisted in cross-examination: “I have never sent Mark any emails whatsoever”.
She continued: “Ray has a problem with his heart. He has high blood pressure but I never emailed Mark and said ‘Ray has a heart attack’.”
Following the emails, Mr van Dongen called Wallace.
Wallace claimed that, during the call, Mr van Dongen said he missed her and wanted to return home but was scared she would cheat on him as he had on her.
He told police the following day: “Yesterday she sent me an email that a friend of hers had had a heart attack.
“She was hysterical on the phone. Something needs to be done about it. Yesterday I called her because of the email.
“Then she started crying and she wouldn’t stop until I said I would come for a visit. But I didn’t want to come and today she called.
“I said ‘I am not coming, I just want you to leave me alone’.”
During the call Wallace made to Mr van Dongen on September 2, he asked her to stop contacting him and said he would call the police.
Pc Katie Bettel, of Avon and Somerset Police, called Wallace the following day.
“I told her Mark van Dongen had made a complaint of harassment against her,” Pc Bettel told the jury.
“She said she couldn’t understand why he didn’t wish to speak to her and she felt unable to cope.
“She said she was left with bills and things and she needed to speak to him. She was quite tearful.”
The sulphuric acid ordered by Wallace was dispatched by Amazon on September 4.
Wallace would no longer be able to buy the sulphuric acid she used to attack Mr van Dongen without a licence, thanks to new legislation.
An amendment to the Poisons Act 1972 was laid before Parliament in April and will come into force on July 1.
This includes sulphuric acid of more than 15 per cent concentration in the list of reportable explosives precursors.
A member of the public will now be required to apply for a licence to import, acquire, possess or use sulphuric acid concentrated above 15 per cent.