Ofcom legal chief leads investigation into hacking at Sky News

Ofcom general counsel Polly Weitzman and her in-house legal team will advise the watchdog on its investigation into Sky News email hacking.

Ofcom, Riverside House
Ofcom, Riverside House

The body’s content and standards department will lead the probe, acting on instructions from its lawyers.

The hacking of private email accounts is an offence under the Computer Misuse Act as highlighted by the eventual admissions by The Times in the Nightjack case (13 April 2012).

Sky admitted earlier this month that it had accessed the email account of fake canoe death man John Darwin and his wife Anne.

The broadcaster has claimed that its actions were in the public interest and said it was responsible journalism.

However, at today’s Leveson Inquiry Sky News head John Ryley apologised for what he termed a “very regrettable” letter that stated the broadcaster had not engaged in any hacking. The correspondence was sent to the inquiry despite executives being aware that reporter Gerard Tubb had hacked into emails belonging to Darwin and another woman in a separate story.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “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’ll make the outcome known in due course.”

Ofcom’s broadcasting code includes saying any infringement must be warranted.

A spokeswoman for Sky News said: “As the head of Sky News John Ryley said earlier this month, we stand by these actions as editorially justified.

“The Crown Prosecution Service acknowledges that there are rare occasions where it is justified for a journalist to commit an offence in the public interest.

“The Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer told the Leveson inquiry that ’considerable public interest weight’ is given to journalistic conduct which discloses that a criminal offence has been committed and/or concealed.”

Herbert Smith has previously been instructed by Sky News, but it is not known who has been instructed on this latest claim.