Sky News has admitted that it gave a reporter permission to access the email account of John Darwin, the man who faked his death in 2002 after he was last seen that year paddling out to sea in a canoe.
The broadcaster however defended its actions, saying they were in the public interest.
A senior Sky News executive gave North England correspondent Gerald Tubb permission to access Darwin's email account in 2008, shortly before his wife Anne was to stand trial for deception. The reporter believed emails in Darwin's account could help defeat his wife's defence.
The broadcaster said in a statement:
We 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.
Sky News managing editor Simon Cole approved this and another instance of email hacking, which targeted a paedophile and his wife.
When Darwin's emails were being accessed, he had already admitted to charges of deception. Email hacking is a violation of the Computer Misuse Act.
Darwin's faked death was dramatized in BBC 4's 2010 Canoe Man.