Adele Bellis recounts the attack by her former boyfriend in August 2014
Surge in acid attacks leads to calls to restrict sales
Beauty therapist Adele Bellis, 24, was doused in acid three years ago after her ex-boyfriend hired someone to attack her.
It was at 8.30am on a sunny August day when it happened. I was sitting beneath a shaded bus shelter, waiting for my ride into work. There were two other people waiting with me, but they were standing further away in the sun. I was talking to a friend on the phone about what we were doing that weekend.
That’s when a suspicious-looking guy in a balaclava started jogging towards me. I leaned in as he went past me – his clothes on such a hot day made me wary of him. He didn’t look like a typical runner.
Adele Bellis in hospital following the attack.
Within minutes of him going by he came up from behind me and threw something in my face. At first it felt like a cold splash, but then a burning sensation took over. It was a blur and all I remember is running out into the road and calling for water. People were coming out of their houses and surrounding me, trying to help. Someone threw some water on me, but it made the burning sensation worse and the acid started to smoke.
I looked down to see my bra and top had completely dissolved and bits of it were stuck to me. My hair singed and it was all matted. The smell is a smell that I cannot describe but I will never forget.
I felt as though I was burning alive. I remember shouting that my ear had gone and people around me were saying “no it hasn’t”. It had shrunk but it felt like it had melted off my head. It’s a feeling I cannot explain. Half my body went into shock and as the years go on I find it harder to think about that terrifying moment.
I knew straight away who was behind the attack. It was my ex-boyfriend, Anthony. It later transpired he had hired the man in the balaclava to throw acid at me. The attack itself came after months of abuse when I broke up with him.
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I met Anthony when I was 16 and he was three years older than me. He had a Scottish accent, which I liked, and I found him cheeky. I was young and gullible. He would control what I wore, who I could see and always wanted me to stay in with him.
But it was when I broke up with him in 2013, when I was 21, that he turned really violent. I’d had enough of his controlling and abusive ways and so I left our unhappy relationship. Three months later, he started stalking me and sending flowers to my work. Then he paid someone to stab me in my face and it left me needing stitches. He also imprisoned me in his house after I went round to tell him to stop sending me flowers. It’s clear now it was all building up to the acid attack.
Adele Bellis: ‘No hair will grow back … because the acid went so deep. I lost my ear, but it doesn’t affect my hearing.’
A few days before the acid was thrown at me Anthony had been abusive because I refused to meet him. He kept calling me “scar face” and saying no one else would have me. I thought he was referring to my stab wound. But when I look back I realise he could have been talking about what was about to happen to me.
After the attack I was rushed to hospital. An ambulance arrived in nine minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. I remember being cold at hospital as they used water to get the acid off me. They put me in a shower for about three hours and the parts of my body that were not burnt were freezing.
The attack left me losing half of my hair as the acid went through the skin and the hair follicles. No hair will grow back there because the acid went so deep. I lost my ear, although it doesn’t affect my hearing, and have scarring on my hand, arm and neck.
I luckily turned my head before he threw the acid at me – something made me move, maybe I felt his presence. So it only touched half of me, but the side of my face that was affected was badly damaged. I was in hospital for eight weeks and had a skin graft done and now, three years on, I have to get laser treatment every five weeks. I also have physio twice a week for my neck.
I experienced post-traumatic stress disorder shortly after Anthony’s trial and sentencing. But my head is now in a better place. I will definitely be a lot stronger in any future relationship. I am a very positive person. I have tried to use the acid attack to help others who face domestic abuse. I want people to look at me and what I went through. I wrote a book about my experiences.
The person who was hired to attack me came out of prison last month. He was in for two years, but I am disfigured for life. Anthony got a minimum of 13 years, but he could be out in 10. With increasing numbers of acid attacks, there need to be more severe punishments to stop people using corrosive substances in this way.
I worry sometimes that I have never fully broken down. I have been the strongest one out of all my family throughout it all. I didn’t want Anthony to win and whenever I cried I would make myself stop quickly for that reason.
I’ve tried to take every positive I can from my experience – it is awful, but if I had dwelled on it he would have won.