‘Jealous and vindictive’ student threw acid over ex-boyfriend, jury told
The jury in the trial of Berlinah Wallace have been hearing closing speeches.
A “jealous and vindictive” fashion student murdered her former partner with sulphuric acid after he told her their relationship was over, a jury heard.
Berlinah Wallace, 48, is accused of killing Mark van Dongen by leaving him with such catastrophic injuries that he was granted euthanasia and died in Belgium.
Wallace insists she believed she was throwing a glass of water over Mr van Dongen, a 29-year-old engineer, as he lay in bed at her flat in Westbury Park, Bristol, 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.
Before his death in January 2017, Mr van Dongen told police he woke at 3am on September 23 to hear Wallace laugh and tell him “if I can’t have you, no-one else can” before throwing the acid.
Wallace, from South Africa, is on trial at Bristol Crown Court charged with murdering Mr van Dongen and throwing a corrosive substance.
In the prosecution closing speech, Adam Vaitilingam QC told the jury Wallace had become “jealous and vindictive” when her five-year relationship with Mr van Dongen came to an end.
Mr Vaitilingam said Wallace had been threatening Mr van Dongen with false accusations and had made a number of silent phone calls to his new girlfriend, Violet Farquharson, to “intimidate” her.
“She was emotionally blackmailing him, pretending to take an overdose, threatening to drop out of her course,” Mr Vaitilingam 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.
She was fascinated by those sites about people getting attacked with acid. Adam Vaitilingam QC
“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.”
Wallace claims she bought the acid to deal with smelly drains in her flat, stating that Mr van Dongen knew it had been purchased and helped her use it.
In police interviews from his hospital bed in July 2016, Mr van Dongen said he had no idea the acid was in her flat and questioned why she had it.
Mr van Dongen had moved in with Miss Farquharson, 46, but returned to stay with Wallace on September 22.
Neighbours dialled 999 after Mr van Dongen, clad only in boxer shorts, ran into the street screaming in agony at about 3am on September 23.
Mr Vaitilingam questioned why Wallace had not called for help after throwing the acid and instead spent 25 minutes speaking to an ex-boyfriend on the phone until police arrived.
One neighbour recounted how Mr van Dongen said: “I told her I was leaving her and she did this to me” and was frightened of going back inside the flat.
In the ambulance, Mr van Dongen asked officers to check on Miss Farquharson as he feared Wallace was heading to her home.
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.
“We don’t know whether these sites gave her the idea for what she was going to do to Mark or whether she had the idea already.
“It is no coincidence that the person who was so interested in acid attacks was about to carry out one of her own.”
Wallace claims Mr van Dongen 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.
“It is an absolutely nonsensical defence in this case,” he added.
The prosecutor described the 15 months between the alleged attack and Mr van Dongen undergoing euthanasia as “a long, slow and agonising process”.
“He wasn’t physically able to end his own life,” he told the jury.
“The acid burned through 25% of his body surface area – full-thickness burns.”
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.
“It is extraordinary that this prosecution is inviting you to say, if you are sure that Berlinah Wallace acted unlawfully, the responsibility doesn’t stop in terms of the effect upon him that she caused.
“She is actually responsible for the fact that his life ended. That is testingly remarkable for you.
“If you ask yourself ‘who caused the death’, it is the doctor in Belgium. What happened in Belgium is illegal in this country.”
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.
Wallace, of Ladysmith Road, Westbury Park, Bristol, denies charges of murder and throwing a corrosive substance with intent.
Mrs Justice Nicola Davies is expected to begin summing up the case on Monday.