Five years ago, Naomi Oni’s life changed forever.
‘I’d felt a presence,’ Naomi recalls. ‘I remember seeing a woman’s cold eyes piercing into mine. The rest of her face was obscured by her veil. I didn’t want to stare back, so I turned away.’
‘Then I felt the splash. I took a big intake of breath then screamed. I thought I was going to be killed. My face and tongue were burning.’
‘I didn’t have time to feel fear. I ran and didn’t look back. I felt it was the end — that I was on the brink of death.’
‘I screamed as loud as I could to deter this woman from chasing me, and ran until I got to my front door. I could feel a scalding sensation and there was a chemical smell.’
‘I hammered on my door shouting, “Acid! Acid!” My mom opened it. Her jaw dropped.’
‘I was screaming: “My face is burning up.” There was steam coming off me. I was shaking with shock.’
The pretty young woman had just left work and was on her way home.
It was a familiar journey – a Tube ride and then a bus. But this time a woman wearing a niqab was following her.
The evil figure followed her all the way to her home in Dagenham, London, that she shared with her mother.
So brutal was the attack Naomi’s scars are still visible five years on.
Naomi was left with third degree burns and doctors feared she would be permanently blind.
Her beautiful face was destroyed and her eyelids completely disintegrated.
A young life full of hope and promise was now replaced with countless corrective surgeries.
But brave, beautiful Naomi now 25, is not bitter or consumed with rage.
She has an incredibly courageous and pure heart. She says she has forgiven her attacker — a young woman who she once considered one of her closest friends.
‘I do forgive her. I owe myself the freedom to move on. But I still think she is a callous, vindictive person; a complete coward who betrayed me.’
In the aftermath of the attack her relationship with her law student boyfriend broke down.
Today she says wisely: ‘He was shallow. He just liked me when I was attractive.’
There have been no boyfriends since and her career as a make-up artist has stalled.
‘People stare,’ says Naomi. ‘But I’m learning to block them out.’
‘I thought: “I’m never going to look like myself again,” she says.
‘I had no hair or eyebrows. My eyelids had been burnt off. I couldn’t recognise myself. A slab of my thigh had been grafted onto my face where my cheek had been burnt away.’
‘I just couldn’t take it in. I couldn’t stop crying. I looked at this vision of my face in the hospital bathroom and just slid down the wall.’
- The Sun
‘I didn’t feel grateful I was alive. I felt angry and thought: “What is the point in living?” I thought about taking my life.’
‘But then I gathered myself. I imagined my mom’s face and thought: “I couldn’t do it to her. I couldn’t leave her.”’
Naomi was also left with numerous questions. Had she been in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or had someone targeted her? Was it someone in her close inner circle?
‘I concluded it was a crazy person, and that I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ she says.
Before the attack, Naomi felt completely content with her life.
She had a boyfriend, a job she enjoyed, good friends and not an enemy in the world. Or so she believed.
But the woman who disguised her identity by wearing traditional Muslim clothing was someone she knew. Mary Konye.
Naomi had known her since they were both pupils at St Angela’s Ursuline School.
Konye is now serving a 12-year prison sentence for the attack, for which she has shown no remorse.
In court it was revealed that Mary was ‘obsessed’ with Naomi. She was so jealous of her looks that she’d attempted to destroy them.
But she has failed, for Naomi is still extremely beautiful.
‘When I look in the mirror, I do feel sad,’ she admits.
‘I think a lot about what might have been and where I’d have been today if I hadn’t been attacked. When I look back at old photos of myself, I see an innocent girl with big dreams and aspirations, wanting to make her family proud.’
‘There are still days when I’m unhappy, but I tell myself I’ll overcome it. If something catastrophic can change a life in a second, then great things can happen, too.’
‘After the attack happened, I thought no man would want me. What I’ve learnt since is that the right guy will see beyond my scars. I’ve become a better judge of character now.’
She adds: ‘I also know that the man who marries me will be lucky to have me.’