Media regulator Ofcom has ruled that Sky News did not breach the broadcasting code by hacking into the emails of John Darwin, the “canoe man” accused of faking his own death.
Despite the fact that email hacking is a prima facie breach of the Computer Misuse Act, BSkyB successfully defended the practice by claiming it had been done in the public interest.
The watchdog said that the broadcaster had acted "at the boundaries of what is appropriate" but accepted that obtaining the emails helped the police investigation
Ofcom originally launched its investigation in April 2012 after it emerged that head of Sky News John Ryley had given north of England correspondent Gerard Tubb permission to hack Darwin’s email.
The regulator announced yesterday (Monday) that rule 8.1 of the code had not been broken by Sky News.
Although Darwin and his wife’s privacy had been breached, Ofcom ruled that the email hacking was in the public interest and that Sky News’s freedom of expression in this case outweighed the couple’s right to privacy.
After obtaining the emails, Tubb handed them over to Cleveland Police before reporting on the contents after Darwin and his wife were both sentenced to more than six years in prison for fraud.
Shortly after the verdict, Detective Inspector Andy Greenwood of Cleveland Police described the emails as “vital evidence”.
Monday’s ruling said: “The emails were accessed with a view to detecting or revealing a serious crime in the circumstances where there appears to have been a real prospect that the relevant evidence would go unnoticed by investigating authorities.
It added: “BSkyB behaved responsibly once it had obtained the emails, passing them to the police and ensuring that there was no publication until after proceedings had concluded.
“Overall, although BSkyB’s conduct is at the boundaries of what is appropriate, Ofcom considered that it was warranted in the particular circumstances.”