Families shattered as love by internet ends in life sentence for SA acid attacker

27 May 2018 - 00:00
By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER
Berlinah Wallace threw a glass of acid over Mark Van Dongen in a 3am attack at her Bristol flat.
Image: Supplied Berlinah Wallace threw a glass of acid over Mark Van Dongen in a 3am attack at her Bristol flat.

Their love was ignited on the internet but it was also the world wide web that led to a vicious sulphuric acid attack when the tumultuous five-year romance ended.

This was revealed during the three-week trial of former South African Berlinah Madikeledi Wallace, who was jailed for life after being convicted by the UK's Bristol Crown Court of throwing a corrosive substance with intent at her Dutch ex-boyfriend, Mark van Dongen, in 2015.

in numbers

• 82 is the number of websites Berlinah Wallace searched for information on sulphuric acid

• 2 is the number of average acid attacks in the UK annually, which has the highest number of attacks in the world

The 48-year-old former fashion student, who left South Africa in 1994 with her then husband Ray Wallace, will spend a minimum of 12 years in a British prison for dousing Van Dongen - 20 years her junior - with acid after he left her for a new girlfriend.

A dating website brought Wallace and Van Dongen together, but their relationship appeared to be ridden with abuse by Wallace, who once threw boiling water at Van Dongen. After he left her, Wallace conducted extensive internet searches for information on the acid.

Before Van Dongen ended his life at a suicide clinic in Belgium last year, he suffered extreme pain from the extensive burns, had a leg amputated, lost his left eye and most of the sight in his right eye.

He was able to identify his attacker only by using his tongue to spell out her name.

His father, Kees - now bankrupt and heartbroken - spent 15 months by his son's side until his death at the euthanasia facility.

Mark van Dongen ended his life at a suicide clinic in Belgium last year.
Image: Supplied Mark van Dongen ended his life at a suicide clinic in Belgium last year.

Van Dongen's application for assisted suicide was authorised by a Belgium court, which recognised his "unbearable physical and psychological suffering".

Wallace threw a glass of acid over Van Dongen in a 3am attack at her Bristol flat, saying: "If I can't have you, no one else can."

Van Dongen had reported Wallace to the police after she repeatedly phoned him and his new partner. He met Wallace at her flat to discuss their relationship.

The judge described the attack as an act of "pure evil". Wallace claimed she thought the glass contained water and that Van Dongen had handed it to her to drink.

Wallace's brother, Dankie Mtimkulu, who lives in Gauteng, told the Sunday Times that their mother, Thoko Elizabeth - who had a heart attack last year when she heard about the incident - was inconsolable. "We find it hard to believe [Berlinah] is capable of hurting anyone, let alone killing. We are very traumatised as none of us can go overseas to give her the support she deserves."