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Woman Sentenced To Life In Prison After 'Act Of Pure Evil' Acid Attack In U.K.

May 23, 2018
Originally published on May 25, 2018 8:42 pm

A judge in the U.K. on Wednesday sentenced a woman to life in prison, requiring her to serve at least 12 years before she is eligible for parole, after she was convicted of hurling sulfuric acid into the face of a man who had been her romantic partner.

Last week, a jury found Berlinah Wallace guilty of throwing the corrosive substance at Mark van Dongen, 28, with the intent to do grievous harm, as he slept in her Bristol apartment.

He survived the 2015 attack but suffered excruciating injuries.

Around a quarter of his body was burned, with nearly 40 percent affected as a result of skin graft procedures, according to the judge. He lost an ear, an eye and a leg, spending almost a year in the intensive care unit, dealing with infection, internal injuries and eventually paralysis.

Doctors said his case constituted unbearable physical and psychological suffering.

In January 2017, 15 months after the attack, van Dongen underwent voluntary euthanasia in Belgium, where physician-assisted suicide is legal.

Wallace was found not guilty of murder and manslaughter.

But Judge Nicola Davies indicated the now 48-year-old demonstrated calculated planning ahead of the attack, purchasing a liter of 98 percent concentrated sulfuric acid, removing the label to avoid suspicion and conducting dozens of online searches to ascertain the damage it could inflict.

Wallace was angry after van Dongen told her he was leaving her and had begun a new romantic relationship, Davies said.

"Your intention was to burn, disfigure and disable Mark van Dongen so that he would not be attractive to any other woman," Davies said.

"It was an act of pure evil."

After her arrest, Wallace told police that van Dongen himself had poured the acid into the glass intending that Wallace drink it. She maintained that defense during the trial.

But "it was another example of the planning which preceded the throwing of the acid upon the man who had been your supportive partner for five years," the judge said in her sentencing remarks.

Davies was also apparently unmoved by accounts over the course of the trial of Wallace's difficult upbringing in South Africa.

"Nothing can begin to excuse your actions," Davies said Wednesday.

Attacks using a corrosive substance have been on the rise in the U.K. in recent years, especially in London, which saw more than 450 attacks in 2016, Joanna Kakissis reported for NPR.

Last year, Cressida Dick, Commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police said such attacks constitute "a new trend in this country" that is "completely barbaric."

Easy access is part of the problem. Dick said perpetrators can make a regular store purchase for a household product like bleach, which can then be weaponized.

But she added, "Why on earth would somebody, a normal person need sulfuric acid?"

The U.K. has been working to tighten laws around the sale of the substance, which has a wide range of industrial applications, including in the making of fertilizer.

Last fall, then Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced its sale to children would be banned.

And later this year, a new law goes into effect in the U.K. requiring licensing for the legal purchase of sulfuric acid above 15 percent concentration.

Two thirds of acid attack victims in Britain are men, in incidents often connected to robberies or gang violence.

But worldwide, most victims are women and girls, Kakissis reported.

"The global pattern is very much males attacking young women and girls, relating to rejected sexual advances or marriage proposals or dowry-related attacks," Jaf Shah, head of Acid Survivors Trust International, told Kakissis.

On Wednesday, van Dongen's father, Kees van Dongen, spoke outside the Bristol courtroom after Wallace's sentencing.

"I'm very pleased she'll be locked up for a minimum of 12 years but really it's too little, because we as a family have been sentenced to life," he said speaking through an interpreter, reports the BBC.

Reporter Joanna Kakissis contributed to this report.

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