Mark van Dongen acid attack: 'I realised his skin was melting'

image captionMark van Dongen had told his father Kees that he was scared of Berlinah Wallace

Warning: this story contains vivid descriptions of dreadful injuries.

Berlinah Wallace has been convicted over an acid attack on her former partner, Mark van Dongen, that left him so badly disfigured he chose to end his life. BBC News examines the extraordinary price he paid for rejecting her.

When Dr Nic White first saw Mark van Dongen in the street in the early hours of 23 September 2015, in only his underwear, she thought he'd played a prank by covering his face in mud.

She said: "I was woken by the sound of somebody shouting: 'Help me, somebody help me, please.'

"I looked out of the window and there was a guy standing there in his boxer shorts and he looked a really odd colour from his head down to his shoulders.

"My doorbell rang a few times and I knew there was something desperate going on, and it was him.

"He looked like he was covered in a clay sort of mud, which I later realised was his skin melting."

image captionWallace was cleared of murder and manslaughter but convicted of applying a corrosive fluid

The night before, 28-year-old Mr van Dongen had arrived at Wallace's flat, in the affluent Westbury Park area of Bristol, to reiterate that their five-year relationship was over - and to say he was moving in with his new girlfriend, 46-year-old Violet Farquharson.

It followed multiple break-ups between Mr van Dongen and Wallace, and mixed signals from him about whether they had a future together.

In the weeks preceding the acid attack, the engineer had reported Wallace, now 48, to the police for harassment and blackmail, saying she had made 14 silent phone calls to Miss Farquharson and kept threatening to kill herself.

He had also told his father he was scared of Wallace, who had once poured boiling water on him, while friends at work said they had seen scratches he said had been inflicted by Wallace during a jealous rage.

'Help me'

So perhaps it was surprising he decided to stay the night at her flat - it was a choice he would bitterly regret.

Another of Wallace's neighbours, Thomas Sweet, left his flat armed with a golf club as he feared violence and wanted to be able to defend himself.

He said: "I heard what sounded like foxes fighting.

"It sounded like someone in a lot of pain, shouting: 'Help me.'"

Eleanor Elcocks was also woken by the screaming.

She said: "He was shouting and screaming and saying: 'Help me, I'm going to die.'"

image captionEach day Nic White would see the marks Mr van Dongen left on her doorbell, as the acid seared into the metal while it simultaneously melted his skin

The neighbours phoned 999 and walked Mr van Dongen to a shower at a building around the corner on Ladysmith Road - unwittingly taking him back towards Wallace's flat.

Mr Sweet said: "He became distressed and was saying: 'She lives there, she lives there.'

"We reassured him we were taking him to a different flat."

Mr Sweet said under the bathroom light it was clear Mr van Dongen had dreadful injuries.

"I told him the police were on their way.

"He said: 'They need to be here, she needs to pay.'"

image copyrightFamily photo
image captionMr van Dongen and Wallace, who were both HIV positive, had met on a dating site for people with the virus

Paramedic Dean Carter said he arrived at the scene to find Mr van Dongen with chemical burns to his face, abdomen, chest and thighs.

"Mr van Dongen kept repeating: 'I can't see'. At one point he asked me if he still had eyelids," Mr Carter said.

He said Mr van Dongen was frothing at the mouth with what looked like "grey-coloured paint".

PC Thomas Green, one of the first police officers to arrive at the scene, described how Mr van Dongen's eyes had turned grey, adding that "the irises had essentially dissolved".

He travelled in the ambulance with Mr van Dongen, who was "screaming in pain" as he was administered gas and air and pointing at a tattoo on his stomach that said "Berlinah".

"He said: 'Berlinah Wallace - she needs to go to prison for this.'"

image copyrightFamily photo
image captionMr van Dongen worked as an engineer in the construction industry

PC Green said Mr van Dongen asked for officers to check on Miss Farquharson's welfare.

"He made reference to him being concerned that Berlinah was going to go to her house," PC Green said.

When police arrived at Wallace's flat to arrest her, they found the fashion student sitting on her sofa.

PC Mathew Griffin asked her what the substance she had thrown was.

"She said it was acid and then indicated to a glass on the floor and said she had been distressing some fabric," the officer said.

Mr van Dongen had been taken to a decontamination room in Southmead Hospital in Bristol where, according to Dr Rachel Oaten, he let out a blood-curdling scream on seeing his reflection.

"He said: 'Kill me now. If my face is going to be left looking like this I don't want to live.'"

image copyrightJulia Quenzler/BBC
image captionWallace's trial heard how she had researched the effects of sulphuric acid

It took 10 days for police to trace his family in Belgium and so during this time he was alone in intensive care.

When his brother Bartje van Dongen finally arrived at the hospital, he didn't recognise Mark.

Mr van Dongen spent two months in intensive care before being moved to Southmead's burns unit.

During that time he suffered intense pain, recurrent septic chest infections, night terrors and post-traumatic stress disorder.

image captionBartje van Dongen has described his father as "broken"

Bartje van Dongen said: "The continuous itching of his scars drove him out of his mind.

"On the arm all the muscle was gone, his bone was slowly being eaten away by the acid.

"My dad sat by his bed 22 hours a day scratching him and moving his arms to try to take the pain away."

Each weekend Kees van Dongen would make the 800-mile road trip from Belgium to be by his son's bedside, sleeping in his van in the hospital car park, sometimes in freezing temperatures.

Eventually his marriage to Mark's and Bartje's stepmother broke down under the strain and he is now bankrupt. Bartje is fundraising to help his father rebuild his life.

image copyrightAvon & Somerset Police
image captionWallace said she believed she was throwing a glass of water

Bartje van Dongen said what Wallace did had ruined several lives.

"Once my dad was a very big man; now he is broken," he said.

It was a friend of the family who eventually helped to pay for Mark to be transferred to hospital in Overpelt, Belgium, so his father could be with him each day.

Once in Belgium, Mark applied for euthanasia, and, after a month, three doctors ruled that his "unbearable physical and psychological suffering" meant he was eligible.

On 2 January 2017, a catheter was inserted into his heart to allow the drugs that would stop his suffering to be administered. He was 29 years old.

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