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Ofcom probes Sky News hacking

April 23, 2012

UK media regulator Ofcom has launched an investigation into Sky News following its admission that it hacked the emails of individuals suspected of criminal activity.

BSkyB said it had authorised a journalist to access emails belonging to John Darwin, the so-called ‘canoe man’ because he faked his death in a canoeing accident. Sky News insisted it was acting in the public interest in that it had shared information with the police, which led to a criminal conviction.

“Ofcom is investigating the fairness and privacy issues raised by Sky News’ statement that it had accessed without prior authorisation private email accounts during the course of its news investigations. We will make the outcome known in due course,” the regulator said.

News of the new probe will be unwelcome at News Corp as Rupert and James Murdoch, prepare to testify at the Leveson inquiry this week. Ofcom is currently investigating whether News Corp is a “fit and proper” holder of a broadcasting licence.

Simon Cole, the managing editor who approved the hacking of the Darwins’ emails, is retiring after 17 years but Sky News has said this was “totally unrelated” to the story. The company also said it had authorised email hacking of a suspected paedophile and his wife in another case but that this did not lead to any publication or broadcast.

The broadcaster added that it had commissioned an external review of email records and an internal audit of payment records. The email review was nearing its conclusion and so far no grounds for concern had been found.

Meanwhile, the head of Sky News has apologised to the Leveson inquiry after the broadcaster previously said that it had not engaged in any hacking, when executives knew that a reporter had accessed emails without permission on several occasions.

John Ryley told Lord Justice Leveson that it was “very regrettable” that a lawyer representing Sky News had written to the inquiry last September stating: “Sky News editorial and reporting staff to whom we have spoken have never intercepted communications.”

When the letter was sent, Ryley and other senior Sky News staff were aware that reporter Gerard Tubb had hacked into emails belonging to ‘canoe man’ John Darwin and a woman who had killed her own children – because they had authorised the email accesses.

The original Sky News submission to the Leveson inquiry added that any proposal to engage in hacking “would not be countenanced”, but Ryley, giving evidence on Monday, said that the lawyer writing the letter was only thinking about phone hacking in the aftermath of the News of the World controversy


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