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Revealed: This is the face of the Donegal native who is accused of setting girlfriend ablaze

Irish boyfriend to be charged with attempted manslaughter of woman

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Smiles: Shaun McLaughlin and his girlfriend Sofie in Donegal together

Smiles: Shaun McLaughlin and his girlfriend Sofie in Donegal together

The mobile home where Shaun is alleged to have set Sofie on fire

The mobile home where Shaun is alleged to have set Sofie on fire

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Smiles: Shaun McLaughlin and his girlfriend Sofie in Donegal together

Patrick O'Connell

THIS is the 33-year-old Irishman alleged to have set his girlfriend alight - leaving her with 80 per cent burns to her body.

Our picture shows Inishowen native Shaun McLaughlin posing happily with girlfriend Sofie Van Der Steen (37) on the picturesque Donegal peninsula where they lived until October last year.

However, the idyllic image of a happy couple portrayed in the photo was brutally shattered on the night of September 2 when Sofie's horrified grandmother witnessed her granddaughter running completely ablaze from the pair's mobile home in Looystraat, Njilen, Belgium.

The shocked pensioner called emergency services as Sofie jumped in a pool in the garden to try to put out the flames.

Upon arriving at the scene, paramedics discovered a badly injured Sofie, still conscious, lying in the pool.

McLaughlin, who moved to Njilen with Sofie in October last year and who runs a start-up construction company called Algemene Bezettingswerken was arrested at the scene.

He appeared in court in Antwerp on Tuesday where he was formally charged with the attempted manslaughter of his girlfriend.

It's understood police are alleging that Sofie was doused in a flammable liquid before she was set on fire.

Speaking with the Sunday World, McLaughlin's lawyer Bart Vanmarcke said he was not yet in a position to indicate a plea on behalf of his client.

"Shaun has appeared in court and has been charged with attempted manslaughter," Mr Vanmarcke told this newspaper.

"Under the Belgian system he was required to appear in court within five days of his arrest and he will appear in court again every 30 days as the police investigation continues.

Alcohol

"The court has decided he is to be charged with attempted manslaughter and he will remain in the prison in Njilen as the investigation continues.

"Shaun has been living in Belgium with his partner since October of 2019.

"Shaun had been running his own construction company here.

"Before this, they were living together in Ireland for a period of two years.

"It's correct to say that as part of this we are looking at whether there were psychological issues or issues with alcohol involved."

Asked whether his client will be pleading guilty or not guilty to the charge, Mr Vanmarcke said he was not yet in a position to say.

"Sofie is obviously still in hospital," he said.

"She suffered 80 per cent burns to her body.

"As of last night she was not listed as critical but she remains in a coma.

"I have spoken with Shaun about this.

"He really feels for Sofie.

"He feels really sad about her condition."

Asked about Shaun's personal circumstances, Mr. Vanmarcke said Shaun has family in Donegal as well as a brother in Belgium.

"It's possible that it may take as long as six months before the case goes to trial," he continued.

"I think it is possible he will remain in custody during this period."

Following the incident, Sofie was rushed to hospital in nearby Leuven, where she was placed in an artificial coma because of the extent of her injuries.

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The mobile home where Shaun is alleged to have set Sofie on fire

The mobile home where Shaun is alleged to have set Sofie on fire

The mobile home where Shaun is alleged to have set Sofie on fire

During Tuesday's criminal proceedings in Antwerp, the court was informed alcohol abuse was a factor at the time of the incident while the accused also had underlying psychological problems.

Sofie's condition was described in court as stable, although it was cautioned that she has permanent burns and the risk of infection is still high.

Issues concerning attacks, assaults and murders on parties involved or previously involved in relationships have come under the spotlight in Belgium in recent months.

In November, several experts called on the Belgian police to intervene more quickly at signs of partner violence after a woman was killed by her former partner.

In that case the victim had been stalked for several months in the West Flanders province.

"The numbers are alarmingly high," said Liesbet Stevens, deputy director of the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men.

Stalking

"Every year, some twenty people are killed by an ex-partner. If we count all attempted murders and manslaughters, the number rises to about 150 people who fall victim to their ex-partner. Often, a long history of stalking and/or violence precedes the attempt," she added.

"Ten per cent of all murders in Belgium are between ex-partners. Stalking is a big issue as well, about 22,000 reports are made every year," said Anne Groenen, a criminologist at the UCLL University College.

However, the experts admit that it is impossible to prevent all of these attempted murders, despite there often being signals that indicate if a conflict between ex-partners can escalate.