March 3, 2015 2:59 AM EST

The former, longtime principal of one of Australia’s most elite private schools has expressed regret for the alleged sexual abuse that occurred during his tenure.

Ian Paterson apologized Tuesday during a Royal Commission hearing that is investigating institutional responses to sex abuse at Knox Grammar in Sydney, reports the Agence France-Presse.

The ongoing abuse allegedly occurred between the 1970s and 2012, and Paterson served as principal for three decades up until 1998. One former student describes Knox Grammar during these years as having harbored “a large pedophile cohort.”

“I should have known and I should have stopped the events that led to the abuse and its tragic consequences for these boys in my care and their families,” Paterson said.

“My abject failure to provide for you a safe and secure place at Knox strikes at the very heart of a responsibility of a headmaster.”

Although Paterson has not been charged with abuse personally, the commission did hear evidence that in 1989 he inappropriately touched a female student during rehearsals for a stage show with another school.

Paterson is due to give evidence to the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about how he managed the teachers accused of abusing students. The body was formed in April 2013 to probe accusations of sexual misconduct in state institutions including schools, orphanages and places of worship, and was extended in September 2014 to deal with the thousands of victims who have come forward.

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