ITV may pull drama about family blighted by autism and suicide

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For Timothy Spall and Brenda Blethyn, the prospect of dramatising the challenges facing parents of a profoundly autistic daughter seemed intriguing.

"With the ... moving shape of her personality, both vulnerable and manipulative at times, she is somebody who is absolutely impossible to discipline in the normal way," Spall said, ahead of the ITV DramaMysterious Creatures, which screens next week, on Sunday, and tells the life of Bill and Wendy Ainscow and their daughter Lisa, now 35.

But the use of the family's life story for television entertainment is now under scrutiny after prompting a public attack by Miss Ainscow on her mother who subsequently attempted to take her own life for a fourth time this week. Mrs Ainscow is in a hospital in the Canary Islands after trying to drown herself in the same waters where her husband took his life, two years ago.

Mrs Ainscow's suicide attempt is the latest chapter in the complex and dramatic history of the Ainscows, whose collective descent into chaos began in January 2003 when Mr Ainscow, a sub-postmaster from Wirral, Merseyside, received a 15-month jail sentence. He had admitted stealing £50,000 of claimants' benefits to pay for the spending sprees that were a characteristic of his daughter's Asperger's syndrome.

While in prison (where he served three months before the Court of Appeal ordered his release on compassionate grounds) he said his daughter had "the wrong kind of mental health condition" to get help.

"The doctors cannot section her and the police cannot do anything unless she commits a crime," he said.

The Ainscows engaged their MP, approached their local newspaper and initiated a complaint against the NHS trust that discharged Miss Ainscow from its care.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, the couple booked one-way flights to Tenerife in November 2004, slept on the beach for three nights, swallowed sleeping pills and swam out to sea in an attempt to drown. Mr Ainscow succeeded. His wife, 66, a teacher, was saved by a lifeboat crew and taken to hospital in Santa Cruz, Tenerife's capital.

The drama's presentation of her parents' story has clearly opened wounds between mother and daughter. Miss Ainscow spoke recently about her fears that the television drama might destroy the life which she says she has tried to build up since her father's death.

Miss Ainscow said that it was she who was intimidated by her parents. She alleged that makers spent no more than an hour with her. "I'm really afraid [the film] will be about me being autistic and violent, which I am not," she said.

ITV said it was considering whether the programme should run.