The chairman of HBOS has apologised for the ailing bank's plight as shareholders gathered in Birmingham to vote on the firm's £11.5 billion taxpayer bail-out and rescue takeover by rival Lloyds TSB.

The takeover and bail-outwas overwhelmingly approved, according to votes cast ahead of a meeting.

Dennis Stevenson said the board was sorry about the financial impact of the crisis on investors and said he was "neither happy nor proud" as chairman.

He told the meeting at the NEC - delayed for half an hour by a serious accident on the M6 - that the world was living through "the most pronounced financial crisis since the Great Depression".

The merger with Lloyds TSB will create a superbank with 145,000 staff and 3,000 branches but unions, fearful of thousands of job losses, protested outside the meeting today.

HBOS, which posted another gloomy trading update, was facing conditions "frankly more difficult by the day", Mr Stevenson said.

The Lloyds takeover has been opposed by some Scottish businessmen, but the board considered all alternatives, the chairman added.

"I cannot say too strongly that your board looked at every possible solution... we do not cede our independence lightly."

The combined bank is likely to be 43.5% owned by the taxpayer following capital raising by HBOS and Lloyds TSB - leaving existing HBOS shareholders with just 20% of the new bank.

But Mr Stevenson said of the public banking rescue: "Overall, I applaud the intervention of the UK Government... it was the right thing to have done."

Andy Hornby, chief executive of HBOS Plc, told the meeting that the Lloyds TSB deal was the best option for shareholders.

He said: "I would like to say sorry for the anxiety our shareholders have felt during this exceptionally challenging period for HBOS."

He outlined three main reasons why the proposal "made sense".

Mr Hornby said firstly, that shareholders would benefit from the synergy available to the combined HBOS and Lloyds group.

Secondly, he said there would be greater financial stability as a result of the combined group, and lastly, access to wider funding services would be available.

He said: "The large group expects to have excellent breadth and balance. This breadth of business is a vital attribute especially in the increasingly uncertain environment. In summary, we believe that the Lloyds acquisition will be in the best interest of our shareholders.

"We are proud of the heritage of our company and its individual brands. The last 12 months have been an exceptionally difficult period for HBOS but we believe the Lloyds deal provides the best solution for the shareholders."

Questioning the panel, shareholder Peter Hapworth said he was "appalled" at how HBOS had been run the last few years.

He said: "Let's face facts, it is a bank like yours along with a number of other banks that have caused the crisis in the first place. You all went dashing for short-term gain to fulfil bonuses and salaries."

Mr Hapworth said the banks were now trying to hide behind "the crisis that they had caused".

He said: "The banks have taken out money on profits which were fallacious. I cannot believe that you as chairman, the directors, non-executive directors, did not know what was going on.

"If you did not understand what was being passed around in parcels of debt you were not acting very well in the interests of shareholders or doing your jobs properly."

Mr Hapworth asked the panel if the money paid in salaries and bonuses would be put back into the company.

In response Mr Stevenson said: "I understand why you made these observations. I do not agree with all of them, but I can understand because it has been completely horrible for shareholders not just in our banks but virtually all banks in the world and it is wholly reasonable to examine us and hold us to account for it."

He said HBOS was a business whereby executives had received bonuses on "real profit". He said executives had put money from bonuses back into the company shares.

He added: "Our weakness has been our access to wholesale markets which is not about capital but about liquidity. It is liquidity that has been our problem not capital. I am not proud or happy to be where we are."

He said the board had been concentrating on nothing else but the best solution for the company's shareholders.

Meanwhile, speakers also expressed concerns over the pensions of the bank staff following the merger with Lloyds. But the HBOS chairman said: "We are proud of the fact that the HBOS pension scheme is very well funded as I stand here today.

"We are confident that it will continue to be well funded if not better funded if the merger with Lloyds goes ahead."