Acid victim died in euthanasia clinic after 15 months of unbearable suffering, court hears

An engineer killed himself more than a year after a former lover threw acid over his face and body, a court in England has heard.

The attack left Mark Van Dongen, 29, paralysed from the neck down, unrecognisable and all but blinded.

It was allegedly carried out by Berlinah Wallace, 48, who told him: "If I can't have you, no-one else can."

Dutch-born Mr Van Dongen suffered 15 months of pain before being granted euthanasia in Belgium, where his family lived, in January 2017.

Adam Vaitilingam QC, prosecuting, told a jury at Bristol Crown Court that South African national Wallace carried out the alleged attack at her flat in Ladysmith Road, Westbury Park, Bristol.

"On September 2, 2015, the defendant had bought a bottle of sulphuric acid. She kept it in her kitchen," Mr Vaitilingam said.

"At around 3am in the morning on September 23, as Mr Van Dongen was sleeping in bed, she took the acid into the bedroom.

"She then went into the bedroom and woke him up. She laughed and said 'If I can't have you, no-one else can', and she threw the glass of sulphuric acid into his face.

"It covered his face and parts of his upper body and dripped on to his lower body as he moved about.

"Covered in burning acid, Mr Van Dongen ran out into the street in his boxer shorts, screaming for help."

Berlinah Wallace in court today.

A neighbour took him upstairs, put him in a shower and called 999, and he was taken to Southmead Hospital.

"The injuries that he suffered were grotesque and horrific. His face and much of his body was grotesquely scarred," the prosecutor said.

"He lost the sight in his left eye and most of the sight in his right eye. He lost his lower left leg, which was amputated.

"He was confined to a hospital bed, for a long time unable to move anything other than his tongue.

"His physical condition improved a little - he regained the power of speech, though never the ability to move.

"But 15 months later, deciding that he could bear it no longer, he asked a euthanasia clinic in Belgium to assist him in taking his own life.

"He was examined by three consultants, who confirmed that this was, in their terms, a case of unbearable physical and psychological suffering despite maximum medical support.

"They agreed that the test for euthanasia was met, and on January 2, 2017, they inserted a catheter into his heart, which brought about his immediate death."

Wallace, of Ladysmith Road, Westbury Park, Bristol, denies charges of murder on a date between September 22, 2015, and January 3, 2017, and applying a corrosive fluid with intent on September 23, 2015.

Berlinah Wallace in court today.

"It is the prosecution case that the defendant deliberately threw acid at Mr Van Dongen, intending to cause him serious harm," Mr Vaitilingam added.

"She admits throwing it but denies any intent to cause him harm. She says that she believed that what she was throwing over him was a glass of water.

"It is the prosecution case that the physical and mental suffering that he sustained from that deliberate acid attack was what drove him to euthanasia.

"Put simply, he could not bear to live in that condition. If that is right, we say, then she is guilty of murder."

The court heard that Wallace was a part-time fashion student at the University of West of England in Bristol, while Mr Van Dongen worked in the construction industry.

The pair, both HIV positive, had been in a five-year relationship but split a few weeks before the alleged attack, with the victim moving in with his new girlfriend, Violet Farquharson.

Prior to the alleged attack, Ms Farquharson began receiving silent phone calls and Wallace was given a police warning about harassment.

Shortly before his death, Mr Van Dongen told his colleagues that Wallace had been violent towards him and had threatened to stab him. They said he "was genuinely frightened" of her.

When paramedics arrived at the scene, Mr Van Dongen was in the shower and said it looked as though he had had grey paint poured over him, the court heard.

"He kept saying he couldn't see and asked if he still had eyelids," Mr Vaitilingam said.

Police found Wallace with a paintbrush and a piece of cloth.

Asked what had caused Mr Van Dongen's injuries, Wallace replied: "Acid - I was using it to distress some fabric."

During police interviews, Wallace denied deliberately throwing the acid at her ex-boyfriend, denied she had intended to hurt him and alleged that he had assaulted her.

"She said that it was Mark who had poured the acid into the glass, encouraging her to drink it with her tablets, but that she had not realised that it was acid," Mr Vaitilingam said.

"When she threw the contents of the glass over him, she believed that it was water that she was throwing."

Wallace also carried out internet searches, including "Can I die from drinking sulphuric acid?" and news stories about people who had been victims of acid attacks.

In hospital Mr Van Dongen, having seen his face in a mirror, screamed at doctors: "Kill me now.

If my face is going to be left looking like this, I don't want to live.

He had burns to 25% of his body and underwent a lower leg amputation. Although he could speak, he was also paralysed from the neck down.

Mr Van Dongen, who was suffering from depression, returned to Belgium in November 2016 and later applied for euthanasia. Three consultants approved his application and he died on January 2, 2017.

- PA


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