Fashion student denies buying acid to harm former partner

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A fashion student accused of throwing acid over her former partner has insisted she bought the substance to deal with smelly drains and not to harm him.

Berlinah Wallace, 48, is charged with murdering Mark Van Dongen, 29, by leaving him with such catastrophic injuries that he asked for assistance in ending his life.

Bristol Crown Court heard Wallace threw acid over Mr Van Dongen’s face and body on September 23 2015 and he died at a clinic in Belgium in January 2017.

Mr Van Dongen, who had a new girlfriend, told police he woke at 3am to hear Wallace laugh and tell him: “If I can’t have you, no-one else can,” before the acid was thrown.

Giving her evidence-in-chief, Wallace said it was “nonsense” that she had purchased the acid to harm Mr Van Dongen.

“We had problems with the drains, where there was a really horrible smell of sewage which would come and go.

“It was getting worse and I just wanted to sort it out.

“When I went on to Amazon when you type in drain cleaner one of the things that comes up is acid.

“I just bought the first acid I got. I just was thinking about bringing people back home.

“I wanted my home to be lovely. Who wants to be in a smelly house? I had been speaking to people online, men who had offered to take me out.”

Wallace purchased the acid on Amazon on September 2 and it was delivered to her basement flat in Westbury Park, Bristol, days later.

When asked if there was a smell in her flat at the time she ordered the acid, she replied: “Probably.”

She claimed Mr Van Dongen was aware that she had purchased the acid and helped her use it on the drains.

The defendant, from South Africa, admitted using Google to search: “Can I die from drink sulphuric acid” in the days before allegedly attacking Mr Van Dongen.

She said she “felt really sorry” for victims of acid attacks, having viewed images of them.

When asked if she bought the acid to harm Mr Van Dongen, she replied: “That’s nonsense.”

Wallace also claimed the acid was used to distress fabric, but this had not been part of her university fashion degree course.

During her evidence, Wallace said both she and Mr Van Dongen had been physically and verbally abusive during their five-year relationship.

The couple met on a dating website for people with HIV in 2010 and Mr Van Dongen moved from his home in the Netherlands to live with Wallace the following year.

They moved to Eindhoven in 2012, where they planned to have IVF treatment but returned to the UK for Wallace to continue her studies before trying for a family.

Wallace said she suffered from depression, severe anxiety and PTSD and had attempted to take her life.

Court had to be adjourned after she became very emotional describing a suicide attempt after the break-up of her relationship with Mr Van Dongen.

On September 2, Mr Van Dongen called police reporting that Wallace was stalking and blackmailing him, as well as making silent phone calls to his new partner Violet Farquharson.

“I was really upset that Mark had called the police on me, saying I was stalking him,” she told the jury.

“I was not. He turned things around then called the police on me unfairly. Mark knows that I’m scared of the police.

“I felt so dirty that he would do something like that to me when I have done nothing.”

Wallace, who admits making silent phone calls to Miss Farquharson, said she only contacted Mr Van Dongen when he did not turn up at her home to deal with bills.

She said she called Mr Van Dongen’s father who “didn’t seem interested” and then spent 27 minutes on the phone to a mental health crisis team.

“I just wanted to die at that particular time,” she said.

Wallace was taken to the Bristol Royal Infirmary following an overdose and was discharged the following day.

Following the suicide attempt, Wallace said she contacted Mr Van Dongen and he came over to her flat.

On September 13, she searched online for “how to talk to ex-boyfriend”, “what to talk about with an ex-boyfriend” and “can you miss your ex after leaving them for someone else”.

Wallace said she and Mr Van Dongen started “seeing each other” again and he told her he wanted to be with her.

The defendant, of Ladysmith Road, Bristol, denies charges of murder and throwing a corrosive substance with intent.

The trial continues.

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