The Guardian today reported that Sky News north of England reporter Gerard Tubb had in 2008 accessed the email account of Darwin, the man who faked his own death as part of an insurance fraud.
Tubb was authorised to do this by a senior executive at Sky News, despite the action being technically illegal under the Computer Misuse Act, it was claimed.
Head of Sky News John Ryley said that evidence gathered by Tubb helped police secure a conviction on 15 charges of fraud and money laundering against Darwin's wife Anne, who was also facing trial for deception.
Ryley said that police had described the material supplied by Sky News as 'pivotal' to the case, leading to Anne Darwin receiving six and a half years in jail, and more than £500,000 of her assets being recovered and returned to the insurance and pension firms defrauded.
In a strongly worded blog post, he said that "careful consideration" had been given to the email access, but it was deemed that "the story was justified in the public interest".
"None of the material obtained was broadcast prior to the conviction and our coverage made clear that we had discovered and supplied emails to the police. There has been no attempt by Sky News to conceal these facts, which have been available on our website ever since," said Ryley.
"To be absolutely clear, we stand by these actions as editorially justified. As the Crown Prosecution Service itself acknowledges, there are rare occasions where it is justified for a journalist to commit an offence in the public interest."
Ryley said that some of the most important stories have come from breaking the law, such as The Daily Telegraph's MPs' expense report, which came about after the paper paid to secure stolen data.
He said that The Guardian has also been involved, as its investigative report David Leigh previously admitted hacking a phone in pursuit of a story.
Sister paper The Observer "was found on more than 100 occasions to have commissioned information from a notorious private investigator, who was convicted in 2006 of illegally obtaining private data", Ryley added.
He noted that in both cases, "a public interest justification has been claimed".
"These cases are a demonstration of the tensions that can arise between the law and responsible investigative journalism," he continued.
"At Sky News, we do not take such decisions lightly or frequently. Each and every time, they require finely balanced judgement based on individual circumstances. They must always be subjected to the proper editorial oversight.
Ryley noted the position of BBC director general Mark Thompson, who recently said that whatever the conclusions of the Leveson inquiry into press ethics, "it is important that the ability of serious investigative journalists to do their work is not blunted or unnecessarily constrained".
The channel boss said that a recent review of payments and email records at Sky News had revealed no evidence of any illegal or unethical behaviour.
"At Sky News, we hold ourselves accountable for our decisions. I'm proud of our journalism and journalists," he said.
"It's less clear why The Guardian should apply such scrutiny to a Sky News story that has been in the public domain since 2008, particularly while failing to acknowledge its own past actions.
"Needless to say we reminded The Guardian of its own past conduct before they published today's story. Double standards? Draw your own conclusions."