A woman has gone on trial in the UK for murder after her ex-boyfriend was so badly injured by an acid attack that she exercised his right to euthanasia. The case would set an important legal precedent in the UK and is being watched closely by disability groups.
Accused of murder, a South African fashion student has gone on trial in England, after her ex-boyfriend exercised his right to euthanasia in Belgium, after she threw acid on him that she had bought on Amazon.
Berlinah Wallace, 48, was originally charged with throwing a corrosive fluid with intention to burn, maim, disfigure, disable or do grievous bodily harm after the incident in Bristol in September 2015.
But when Mark van Dongen, a Dutch national, exercised his right to euthanasia in January 2017 the Crown Prosecution Service added a charge of murder.
Paralyzed and Virtually Blind
The 29-year-old was left paralyzed after suffering 25 percent burns. He had to have some of his skin surgically removed and lost a leg, his left eye and much of the sight in his right eye.
Bristol Crown Court heard on Wednesday, November 8, that Mr. van Dongen asked doctors to end his life because of the injuries he suffered, although they would not themselves have led to his death.
The jury heard testimony from Mr. van Dongen, recorded before his death, in which he described the moment the acid was thrown at him during a row about another woman he was dating.
‘If I Can’t Have You, No One Can’
Ms. Wallace moved to England from South Africa in 1994 with her British partner, Ray Wallace, but she later left him and began seeing Mr. van Dongen, a civil engineer, when he moved from the Netherlands in 2011 to study at the University of Bristol.
The court heard the couple’s relationship failed and Mr. van Dongen began seeing another woman, Violet Farquharson.
On September 23 in 2015, he agreed to meet Ms. Wallace for dinner, but then canceled and went out with Ms. Farquharson instead.
When he returned to the apartment they shared they had a row, and she said she was going to stay at a hotel and he went to sleep, the jury heard.
“At around 3am, as Mark was sleeping in bed, she poured the acid into a glass. She then went into the bedroom, and woke him up. She laughed and said, ‘if I can’t have you no-one will’ and she threw the glass of sulfuric acid into his face,” said prosecutor Adam Vaitlingam QC.
Mr. van Dongen ran out into the street, wearing only his boxer shorts, screaming for help as he writhed in agony.
“This b***h, this b***h did it to me. My ex did it,” he told Thomas Sweet, a neighbor.
‘I Don’t Want to Live’
Mr. van Dongen was rushed to hospital and when he caught sight of himself in a mirror, he told emergency consultant Dr. Rachel Oaten:
“Kill me now, if my face is left looking like this. I don’t want to live.”
Police arrived at the apartment and arrested Ms. Wallace. She was asked about the substance which she had thrown on him.
“She said, ‘acid, I was using it to distress some fabric’ and indicated to the glass, cloth and paintbrush on the floor,” said Mr. Vaitlingam.
A police investigation of her computer found she had carried out internet searches including, “Can I die from drinking sulphuric acid?” and graphic images of acid attack victims.
She Claimed He Attacked Her
During police interviews Ms. Wallace claimed he attacked her and threw the liquid at him, but she has since stated she thought it was water, not acid.
On Thursday, November 9, Mr. van Dongen’s father Cornelius, speaking through a Dutch translator, told the court his son had to communicate by using an alphabet board after the attack.
Mr. van Dongen spent a total of 14 months at Southmead Hospital in Bristol before being transferred to Belgium, where his family lived.
“Sometimes he said he wanted to live, at other times that he wanted to die,” said Mr. Vaitlingam.
He eventually applied for euthanasia and his life was taken on January 2 this year.
Three Belgian consultants confirmed it was a reasonable decision considering the “unbearable physical and psychological suffering” he had endured.
The trial continues.