A woman has been found guilty of an acid attack in Bristol that left her former partner with such terrible injuries that he was driven to euthanasia.
Berlinah Wallace, 49, threw sulphuric acid over Mark van Dongen, 29, in a fit of jealousy and rage after he began a relationship with another woman.
Bristol crown court heard that Wallace, a former fashion student, hurled acid at Van Dongen, an engineer, as he lay in bed, laughing and taunting him: “If I can’t have you, no one else can.”
Van Dongen’s face and much of his body was severely scarred. The acid burned through 25% of his body surface and he was paralysed from the neck down, lost most of his sight and his lower left leg had to be amputated.
He spent more than a year in hospital in Bristol before his family and friends hired a private ambulance to move him to Belgium, where he applied for euthanasia.
Wallace was found guilty of throwing a corrosive substance with intent but cleared of murder.
Arguing against the murder charge, her defence claimed there was no direct “causal link” between her actions and his death: in effect, Van Dongen and the Belgian doctors were responsible rather than Wallace.
Van Dongen’s father, Kees, expressed satisfaction that the jury was given the chance to decide if his son’s death amounted to murder.
Describing Wallace as “the devil personified”, he told the Guardian how he did not recognise his son when he first visited him hospital. “His injuries were unbelievable,” he said.
Kees said he fully supported his son’s decision to apply for euthanasia. “No one can imagine what Mark’s suffering was like: the horrendous pain and the misery that boy went through. Nobody can imagine it,” he said.
Wallace bought the sulphuric acid – legally – online from Amazon for less than £10. Kees van Dongen vowed to campaign to make sure the laws around the sale of acid are tightened. Amazon has declined to comment.
A spate of acid attacks including the one on Van Dongen has led the government to move to reclassify sulphuric acid. Later this year it will only be possible to legally buy the substance over a certain concentration with a licence.
The police’s actions before the attack will be scrutinised. It has emerged that Van Dongen was so worried about Wallace after they split that he contacted the police and an officer gave her a harassment warning.
Speaking after the case, DI Paul Catton, the senior investigating officer, said: “With hindsight you can look back and say could we have done more?”