Murder accused viewed images of acid victims days before attack, court told
Berlinah Wallace denies murdering Mark van Dongen by throwing acid over him in September 2015.
A fashion student has claimed it was just “bad luck” that she threw acid over her former partner within days of viewing articles about victims of such attacks.
Berlinah Wallace, 48, is charged with murdering 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, an 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.
Is it just a coincidence that within a few days of reading these sites or looking at these pictures, you yourself have thrown sulphuric acid in Mark's face? Adam Vaitilingam QC
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.
In cross-examination of Wallace at Bristol Crown Court, Adam Vaitilingam QC read out a number of articles – later recovered after being deleted from her browsing history – that were visited by the fashion student.
On September 13, Wallace searched for advice on how to get back with an ex-boyfriend but the following day asked Google “can I die from drink sulphuric acid”.
Wallace told the court that she had not read any of the articles and was only interesting in viewing images of acid attack victims.
“What was so interesting to you about pictures of people who had acid thrown in their faces,” Mr Vaitilingam asked.
Wallace replied: “Just curiosity.”
Mr Vaitilingam told Wallace: “You were obsessed with these sites about people having sulphuric acid thrown in their faces.”
Wallace said: “No. I don’t remember looking at these articles.”
Mr Vaitilingam asked: “Is it just a coincidence that within a few days of reading these sites or looking at these pictures, you yourself have thrown sulphuric acid in Mark’s face?”
Wallace replied: “Yes. It is just a coincidence – bad luck.”
I didn't mean to hurt him. I didn't mean to hurt Mark Berlinah Wallace
She described Mr van Dongen as “my best friend, my family” and said she missed him after he left her for his new girlfriend, Violet Farquharson.
During a police interview, Wallace claimed that Mr van Dongen must have placed the acid in her glass and left it by the side of the bed for her to drink.
Wallace, from South Africa, said she did not drink from her glass and instead threw it over Mr van Dongen when he pulled on her underwear during an argument.
Mr Vaitilingam read part of one of the articles visited by Wallace in September 2015.
“It is a story about a man tricking his partner into drinking sulphuric acid,” he told Wallace.
“Is it what gave you the idea for your defence in this case – I’m going to say that Mark tried to trick me and put it in my glass for me to drink?
“That’s what gave you the idea. (You thought) ‘No-one will know it’s a story I read because I’ve deleted it from my internet history.”
Wallace replied: “That’s not true. Because I never read the story. Like I said, I was only clicking on images.
“I never read any articles because I was not interested in reading them.”
When asked why Mr van Dongen would want to kill Wallace, the defendant told the court that she had “said nasty things to him”.
Mr Vaitilingam pointed out that on September 21, Mr van Dongen refused to give Wallace money to pay for a flight home.
“If Mark had wanted to be rid of you, was there something stopping him buying you a plane ticket to South Africa and waving you goodbye?” Mr Vaitilingam asked.
Wallace replied: “Well he didn’t want me to go. It is so unfair to make me think what Mark was thinking in this moment.”
In text messages, Mr van Dongen said he would financially provide for Wallace through the remainder of her studies.
But after he asked Wallace not to contact him, she told him she would no longer go to university and wanted to go home.
Mr Vaitilingam told Wallace: “You were emotionally blackmailing Mark by telling him how devastated you were and how you couldn’t finish your course and how you were going to go back to South Africa.”
The defendant replied: “I find what you are saying really unkind. You have no idea how I was really feeling at the time.
“That’s a really unkind thing to say. I couldn’t take the stress anymore. He was my family. I felt alone and I just wanted to go home.”
Mr van Dongen returned to Wallace following her message and arrived at her home at 10pm on September 22.
Neighbours called 999 just before 3am after hearing him screaming in pain in the street outside.
Wallace denied that she had told Mr van Dongen: “If I can’t have you, no-one else can”.
She wept and cried “no” when Mr Vaitilingam asked if she was aiming at her former partner’s face when she threw the liquid over him.
“I didn’t mean to hurt him,” she wept. “I didn’t mean to hurt Mark.”
The defendant, of Ladysmith Road, Bristol, denies charges of murder and throwing a corrosive substance with intent.
The trial continues next week.