Abbey National shareholders last night gave the go-ahead for a takeover by Spain's largest bank after a stormy meeting in which the group faced a barrage of criticism.

At a fraught and lively gathering, in which the board was continuously heckled, Abbey chairman Lord Burns declared the takeover by Banco Santander Central Hispano (SCH) had been passed by shareholders.

Although 94.6 per cent of shareholders voted positively based on the value of shares, only 64.8 per cent approved the deal when counting one vote per shareholder.

This suggested a significant revolt by Abbey's army of 1.7 million small shareholders, 900 of whom descended on the Wembley Conference Centre.

The majority of the crowd applauded suggestions that the £9bn acquisition should be blocked.

Longstanding investor Richard Tout asked: "If you can't communicate between London, Milton Keynes, Sheffield and Stockton, how are you going to deal with management in Spain."

During the four-hour meeting, Lord Burns said he was satisfied the board had got a good price for Abbey and rejected claims that Santander was not the right company to acquire the bank.

He said he believed the group would emerge a "stronger, more competitive force on the high street".