INDEPENDENT travel agent Hays Travel has said it will buy 555 stores from Thomas Cook after the holiday company collapsed late last month.

Hays has already recruited 421 former Thomas Cook staff and has offered employment to more of the airline's personnel.

All passengers who were stuck abroad have been returned to the UK.

The deal will boost the high street presence of Hays, the UK's largest independent travel group.

"This represents an important step in the liquidation process, as we seek to realise the company's assets," said David Chapman, the official receiver of Thomas Cook.
John and Irene Hays, managing director and group chair of Hays Travel, said: "Thomas Cook was a much-loved brand employing talented people. We look forward to working with many of them."
The Thomas Cook brand will disappear from the UK high street, the new owners of its 555 stores has said.
Sunderland-based Hays Travel said it did not buy the rights to the Thomas Cook name and would change them to its own branding.

Managing director John Hays said a "good percentage" of the shops will be open and trading on Thursday.
He added: "We will need to talk to the landlords, which we've started already. We're expecting very positive outcomes."