Sky News claim the hackings were justified as being in the public interestCredit: David Jones/PA
Sky News authorised a journalist to access emails "of individuals suspected of criminal activity" on two occasions, insisting police were aware of their actions, the broadcaster confirmed today.
In a statement issued to the press today, head of Sky News John Ryley said in one of the cases the email hacking was carried out in relation to Anne Darwin, who aided her husband John Darwin in faking his own death.
The broadcaster said in 2008 "Sky News met with Cleveland Police and provided them with emails offering new information relevant to Mrs Darwin's defence".
"Material provided by Sky News was used in the successful prosecution and the police made clear after the trial that this information was pivotal to the case," Ryley added. It is understood that no material was broadcast prior to the conclusion of the trial.
He said Sky News "stand by these actions as editorially justified and in the public interest".
"We do not take such decisions lightly or frequently.
"They require finely balanced judgement based on individual circumstances and must always be subjected to the proper editorial controls."
The head of Sky News added that "separate to the actions described above" and "in light of the current, heightened interest in editorial practices" it has commissioned an external review of email records and an internal audit of payment records.
"While the email review is nearing its conclusion, no grounds for concern have been found. If evidence of impropriety was found, we would investigate immediately.
"We believe these pro-active steps, undertaken at our own initiative, form part of the good governance procedures to be expected of a responsible news organisation.
“At all times, Sky News remains focused on maintaining its high standards and delivering an outstanding service.”
A Cleveland police spokesperson issued a statement to say the force "has conducted an initial review into these matters and can confirm that enquiries are ongoing into how the emails were obtained."
Earlier this year the Times apologised for hacking into a police officer's email account to identify him as the author of the anonymous NightJack blog in 2009.
Update (4.40pm): The Hacked Off campaign released a statement to say: "If Sky News believes there is a clear public interest to hack into emails then it should have a clear and consistent legal defence for its actions.
"Journalists would feel confident to speak openly about the methods they use to discover stories in the public interest if they knew there was a proper defence for their actions in law.
"Hacked Off hopes that the Leveson Inquiry will recommend the introduction of a formal public interest defence in law for the protection of journalism."
Sky News's John Ryley issued an additional blog statement adding that "some of the most important stories have involved breaking the rules in some way".
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