Sky News has admitted hacking the emails of members of the public, but has defended the hacks on the grounds that they were "in the public interest".

Sky News admits it hacked emails belonging to John Darwin - who faked his own death in a canoe - and his wife Anne. His wife claimed the life assurance on his disapperance, before the pair of them were found holed up in Panama living on the proceeds. They were later charged and jailed.

Sky News said it had also accessed emails of a "suspected" paedophile and his wife. Sky News said the actions were "in the public interest and amounted to responsible journalism".

Journalists can use a "public interest" defence if they are charged with phone tapping or email hacking offences. BSkyB is currently under investigation by Ofcom to see whether "it is fit and proper" to continue holding a broadcasting licence.

Sky News, owned by BSkyB - whose chairman James Murdoch resigned yesterday amid the ongoing newspaper hacking investigations - admits a "senior executive" authorised a journalist to make the email hacks.

Neither the executive nor the journalist have been named. At the time of writing, despite extensive broadcast and web coverage on the BBC covering the email hacks Sky News had so far not covered its hacking admission nor defended its actions on air.

Tom Watson, who is a member of the parliamentary committee looking into the News International hacks carried out by the now defunct News of the World, along with suspected hacks carried out by other papers, told the BBC he found the timing of the email hacking admission "curious".

He said it was "strange" that the chairman of BSkyB had resigned the day before a new hacking scandal had engulfed the group.

Cleveland Police, which apparently received emails from Sky News for a court case, said it had already carried out an initial investigation into the illegal email hacks. So far no one has been arrested or charged in connection with the hacks.

Watson told the BBC that the public would want to know more details about the hacks and to be "re-assured" that those hacks were not part of a widespread hacking operation carried out by Sky News.