Sky News, the British broadcaster partly owned by Rupert Murdoch, admitted on Thursday that it had hacked into the email account of a man who notoriously faked his own death in a life insurance scam.
Sky News said it had authorised a journalist to access emails belonging to John Darwin and his wife Anne, who had faked his death in a canoe accident before moving to Panama to start a new life with the insurance payout.
But the broadcaster insisted the hacking had been in the public interest as material provided by the channel to the police was “pivotal” in the successful prosecution of the couple in 2008.
“We stand by these actions as editorially justified and in the public interest,” Sky News head John Ryley said in a statement.
“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.”
Sky News said that “in light of the current, heightened interest in editorial practices”, it had commissioned an external review of its email records and an internal audit of payment records.
The channel is owned by pay-TV giant BSkyB, of which 39 percent belongs to Rupert Murdoch’s US-based media empire News Corp.
BSkyB is currently under investigation by Britain’s media regulator to determine if it is “fit and proper” to continue holding a broadcasting licence.
A storm of phone hacking allegations forced News Corp’s British newspaper wing, News International, to shut down the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid last July.
There was public revulsion in Britain when it emerged that the News of the World had listened to the voicemails of Milly Dowler, a murdered English schoolgirl, as well as dozens of victims of crime, celebrities and politicians.
Ryley said Sky News’ email review was nearing its conclusion and that no grounds for concern had been found so far.
John Darwin was jailed in 2008 for six years for his scam and his wife Anne, who claimed just over £500,000 ($793,000, $607,000) in life insurance payouts, was jailed for six and a half years.
The couple, who had faked the death in 2002, were both freed last year.