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Father of engineer slams ‘too little’ sentence for acid attacker

Berlinah Wallace was jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of 12 years.

The father of an engineer driven to euthanasia following an acid attack by his former girlfriend has condemned her prison sentence as “too little”.

Berlinah Wallace, 48, poured sulphuric acid over the face of Mark van Dongen, 29, as he slept in her flat in Westbury Park, Bristol, at 3am on September 23 2015.

She laughed and told Mr van Dongen: “If I can’t have you, no-one can” after throwing the acid – described as “an act of pure evil” by a High Court judge.

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Berlinah Wallace poured sulphuric acid over her former partner Mark van Dongen’s face (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

Mr van Dongen fled in agony and his screams of pain were heard by neighbours, who dialled 999 while Wallace calmly sat in her lounge chatting to an ex-boyfriend.

The graduate was left in a coma for four months, suffered extensive burns to his body, was left blind in one eye, paralysed from the neck down and had to have his lower left leg amputated.

He suffered 15 months of excruciating pain before undergoing euthanasia, telling his father: “Dad, I’m tired of fighting, I’ve suffered so much pain and I can’t take any more. Please let me go.”

Mr van Dongen died in hospital in Belgium on January 2 2017.

Mrs Justice Nicola Davies described the attack – which happened after Mr van Dongen left Wallace for another woman – as “sadistic” and said the fashion student required a life sentence.

Speaking outside court, Mr van Dongen’s father, Kees van Dongen, said the 12-year minimum term set by the judge – which Wallace must serve before being considered for release – was “too little”.

“I’m very pleased that she is going to be locked up for 12 years but really it is too little because we as a family have been sentenced to life,” he said.

“I never knew that she was like this and it turns out that she really pulled the wool over our eyes from day one.

“The minimum term of 12 years isn’t long enough. I hope that she messes up inside prison and doesn’t become eligible for parole.”

Mr van Dongen paid tribute to his son as “my mirror image” and said the attack had “completely ruined” his family.

Wallace was acquitted of murder but convicted of throwing a corrosive substance with intent following a four-week trial at Bristol Crown Court.

She bought a litre bottle of 98% sulphuric acid on September 2 after Mr van Dongen left her for another woman.

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A bottle at the scene of the crime (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

Wallace viewed 82 websites about acid – including post-mortem images of a man who had drunk it – and removed the warning label from the bottle she had purchased.

“You chose your moment for the attack,” the judge told Wallace, who remained emotionless.

“It occurred when Mark van Dongen, wearing only boxer shorts, was asleep in the bed which you had shared in your flat.

Your intention was to burn, disfigure and disable Mark van Dongen so that he would not be attractive to any other woman. It was an act of pure evil Mrs Justice Nicola Davies

“Vulnerable, almost naked, he awoke but had no real opportunity to avoid the focus of your acid attack, namely his face and then his body.

“Immediately before you threw the acid, you said to Mark: ‘If I can’t have you, no-one can.’

“Your intention was to burn, disfigure and disable Mark van Dongen so that he would not be attractive to any other woman. It was an act of pure evil.”

Mr van Dongen immediately suffered “excruciating pain” but Wallace did nothing to help him, such as calling an ambulance.

“Nothing better demonstrates your malicious and callous intention than your refusal to provide any help, even when Mark was screaming in pain,” the judge said.

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Mark van Dongen with Berlinah Wallace (Family handout/PA)

Mr van Dongen suffered burns to two-thirds of his face, a large percentage of his upper chest, arms and upper thighs – with 25% of his body affected.

A consultant at Southmead Hospital, where Mr van Dongen was taken after neighbours called 999, said he had never seen a patient with such extensive injuries following a chemical attack.

Mr van Dongen was unable to communicate for four months and, at that point, could only do so by sticking out his tongue when his father read through the alphabet.

In this way, he spelt out “Berlinah” letter by letter when asked who had attacked him.

Mr van Dongen had called 999 on September 2 – the day Wallace purchased the acid – and told police that she was harassing him and making silent calls to his new girlfriend, Violet Farquharson.

Bristol Crown Court heard that Wallace had previously poured boiling water over him and had left deep scratches on his shoulders after attacking him.

Your conduct can properly be described as sadistic Mrs Justice Nicola Davies

Mrs Justice Davies said Mr van Dongen only returned to stay with Wallace on the evening of September 22 because she had previously threatened to harm herself.

The judge told Wallace she had, in a fit of anger, poured the acid of Mr van Dongen after he reiterated that their relationship was over.

“Your conduct can properly be described as sadistic,” she added.

From July this year, members of the public wishing to purchase sulphuric acid with a concentration of more than 15% will require a licence.

Victoria Atkins, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, said: “Our recent change to the Poisons Act means that, from July, members of the public must hold a valid Home Office licence to acquire, possess or use the acid used in this attack.”

The Government also plans to introduce an Offensive Weapons Bill, making it illegal to possess corrosive substance in public places and banning their sale to under-18s.

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