A fashion student who poured sulphuric acid over her former partner’s face when he left her for another woman has been jailed for at least 12 years.
Berlinah Wallace was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 12 years for throwing a corrosive substance with intent following a four-week trial at Bristol Crown Court, but was acquitted of murder.
Mark Von Dongen later died by euthanasia.
Wallace, 48, purchased a bottle of 98% concentration sulphuric acid and viewed 82 websites about it – including post-mortem images – after her former partner said their relationship was over.
She threw the liquid over the engineer as he slept in bed at her flat in Westbury Park, Bristol, in September 2015, and laughed as she told him: ‘If I can’t have you, no-one else can.’
The 29-year-old was left in a coma for four months, suffered extensive burns to his body, was blinded in one eye, paralysed from the neck down and had to have his lower left leg amputated.
Mark died by euthanasia January 3, 2017 after his application was approved by three consultants who decided he met the criteria of ‘unbearable physical and psychological suffering’.
Jailing Wallace, Mrs Justice Nicola Davies told her: ‘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.’
She went on: ‘You chose your moment for the attack.
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‘It occurred when Mark van Dongen, wearing only boxer shorts, was asleep in the bed which you had shared in your flat.
‘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’.’
In the days before the attack, Mark’s new girlfriend, Violet Farquharson, had received a series of silent phone calls in the middle of the night.
Mark met a police officer the following day, September 3, but the messages were not deemed threatening and Wallace was issued with a warning.
His work colleagues recalled how Mark, who worked as an engineer, was ‘scared’ of his South African girlfriend, and had said she was violent.
The judge told Wallace: ‘Having carried out this horrific attack you then told lie after lie.
‘When interviewed by the police you sought to place the blame upon Mark van Dongen, falsely alleging that he had poured the acid into the glass on your bedside table intending that you should drink it.
‘It was an account which you gave in September 2015 and maintained throughout this trial.
‘Not only did you make this wholly false accusation to the police and throughout your trial, you further sought to destroy the name and character of Mark van Dongen, alleging that he was the abuser in your relationship.
‘Mark van Dongen is no longer alive. He was unable to defend himself against any of your accusations.’
The judge said she accepted the evidence of Mr van Dongen’s colleagues and father, who said the engineer was scared of Wallace.
She said: ‘He was right to be so because he had some idea of what you were capable of.’
Speaking outside the court after the sentence, Mr van Dongen’s father Cornelius said: ‘I am pleased the judge saw the facts for what they were – but there are only losers in this case.
‘I am very pleased she is going to be locked up for twelve years, but really this is too little, as we as a family have been sentenced for life.
‘This has completely ruined our lives – financially and as a family. Our home has fallen apart.
‘I hope we can start to pick up the pieces and rebuild when I go back to Belgium.’
Mr van Dongen added: ‘I never knew she [Wallace] was like that. She really pulled the wool over our eyes from day one.
‘I hope she messes up in prison and never qualifies for parole, and never comes out.’
Senior Investigating Officer Detective Inspector Paul Catton said: ‘This was an extremely unusual and challenging case and one which affected a great number of people.
‘Today’s sentence, which I believe is the first life sentence handed to someone involved in an acid attack, reflects the gravity of the crime Wallace committed, her refusal to accept responsibility and the horrendous consequences her actions had.’