shock attack Irishman faces manslaughter charge as girlfriend dies after being doused and set alight
The idyllic image of a happy couple portrayed in this photo was brutally shattered on the night of September 2 when Shaun McLaughlin allegedly doused his girlfriend in an accelerant before setting her on fire.
A 33-year-old Irishman who allegedly doused his girlfriend in an accelerant before setting her on fire is now facing a manslaughter charge and up to 20 years in a Belgian prison after she died in hospital.
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 2019.
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 2019 and who ran a start-up construction company called Algemene Bezettingswerken, was arrested at the scene.
He appeared in court in Antwerp shortly afterwards at which point he was formally charged with the attempted manslaughter of his girlfriend.
It's understood police alleged that Sofie was doused in a flammable liquid before she was set on fire.
Tragically, the Sunday World has now learned that Sofie passed away in hospital as a result of her injuries at the beginning of October.
The charges against McLaughlin were subsequently upgraded to manslaughter.
Speaking with the Sunday World, McLaughlin's lawyer Bart Vanmarcke said his client very much regrets Sofie's death.
"He always hoped she would be OK. He is very upset by her death," he said.
"He is receiving psychological and medial treatment in prison."
Asked whether Shaun will plead guilty to the manslaughter charge, Mr Vanmarcke said a final decision won't be made in that regard until closer to the trial date.
"In Belgium, we don't put in a plea before the trial.
"The investigation also is not complete and the trial cannot begin until this happens.
"It is clear Sofie Von Der Steen died because of some action of my client and he is devastated because of this." Previously Mr Vanmarcke confirmed to the Sunday World the background of the couple.
"Shaun has been living in Belgium with his partner since October of 2019," he said.
"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 about Shaun's personal circumstances, Mr Vanmarcke said Shaun has family in Donegal as well as a brother in Belgium.
"It is an estimate but I think it could be three to four months before the case goes to trial," he continued.
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.
She had suffered 80 per cent burns to her body.
During previous 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.
Issues concerning attacks, assaults and murders of 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. "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.
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