Acid victim stuck out tongue to ID attacker
A man who chose to die after an acid attack left him disfigured, virtually blind and paralysed from the neck down named his alleged attacker by sticking out his tongue to signal letters of the alphabet.
Mark van Dongen’s father Cornelius described how his son named Berlinah Wallace, his South African-born former partner. She is on trial accused of murdering van Dongen after his decision to choose euthanasia because he could no longer live with the pain of his injuries. He died at a clinic in Belgium, his home country, in January after an examination by three doctors.
His father told Bristol Crown Court in England that nurses at the clinic had to get used to looking at van Dongen’s injuries. He was unable to speak but would stick out his tongue when someone pointed at letters on the chart.
He said that his son, 29, used the chart to spell “Berlinah” when asked who had attacked him. He told the jury: “(Mark said) he was lying in his bed and she was standing behind his bed and she shouted, ‘She will not get my life. If I cannot have it, no one else will get it.’ Those are the words that I can remember.”
His father said it took about four months to communicate with van Dongen using a sheet of paper on which the alphabet was written. He said: “I had prepared an A4 sheet of paper with the alphabet on it. I called out all the letters and once he reached the right letter he stuck out his tongue.”
Van Dongen’s injuries became progressively worse because of the burns caused by the sulphuric acid. He lost the use of his arm and fingers, making him feel “incredibly disappointed”.
When he learnt that his paralysis was permanent it was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, his father said. “He completed his application for euthanasia. He said, ‘My life has come to nothing, there’s nothing left of it, if I come with you there’s just a different ceiling to look at, that’s all’.”
His father said van Dongen had been HIV-positive as a result of a relationship with a woman in The Netherlands. He had also been briefly engaged to a man before meeting Miss Wallace.
The prosecution claims Miss Wallace bought the acid online after discovering van Dongen, a civil engineer, was seeing another woman. She is alleged to have poured it over his head as he slept.
The court has heard van Dongen had called police “several times” after previous alleged assaults by Miss Wallace.
One of the first officers on the scene after the attack in September 2015 said van Dongen had pointed to a tattoo on his stomach when asked who had attacked him. The tattoo said: “Berlinah”.
PC Thomas Green said that the flat in Bristol had reeked of “potent chemicals”.
He had accompanied van Dongen to hospital and said: “I asked him who the offender was, to which he replied Berlinah. He was pointing to a tattoo just below his bellybutton which said Berlinah. He said, ‘She needs to go to prison for this’.”
Miss Wallace, 48, denies a charge of murder. She claims that she thought she was throwing water at van Dongen.
The trial continues.
Mark van Dongen as a teenager with his father Cornelius in Belgium