AN INDEPENDENT travel agent has said it will buy all 555 stores from Thomas Cook, which includes a branch in Hereford, after the holiday company collapsed late last month.

Hays Travel has already recruited 421 former Thomas Cook staff and has offered employment to more of the airline's personnel after the tour operator collapsed last month.

All passengers who were stuck abroad have been returned to the UK, including Thomas Cook customers from Hereford.

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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."