Reece Shearsmith is to play real-life wife killer Malcolm Webster in ITV series The Widower, while Sheridan Smith will play his ill-fated first wife.

Co-writer Jeff Pope (Mrs Biggs, Appropriate Adult, See No Evil – The Moors Murders) explains that The Widower will portray how, over a 13-year period, a seemingly mild-mannered male nurse, Malcolm Webster, poisoned and murdered his first wife, attempted to do the same to his second wife and moved on to a further scheme to deceive his third fiancee.

Sheridan Smith takes the role of first wife Claire Morris, who married Webster in Aberdeen in 1993. He declared his undying love for his bride at the wedding, but eight months later he had gradually poisoned Claire, leaving her comatose, lethargic and hardly capable of walking, then killed herby swerving off a road into some woods and setting the car alight while she was still inside.

Three years later Webster lived in Auckland, New Zealand, and began drugging his second wife, Felicity Drumm, on their honeymoon, readying himself to empty her bank account. But she fell pregnant and when the truth about his finance was about to be revealed he attempted to engineer another car accident.

Jeff Pope said: “This is a quite extraordinary story, far more chilling than any fiction. Webster was a banal, almost benign face of evil. He was so clever at hiding his tracks and presenting a plausible front to his friends, family and colleagues that he was able to do what he did without really attracting suspicion.

“The courage and tenacity of Webster’s second wife Felicity, and his last intended victim Simone, is all that stood between him and potentially more murders.”

The three-part series will screen later in 2014.