INDEPENDENT travel agent Hays Travel has said it will buy all 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.

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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."

Thomas Cook had two branches in St Helens, one on Church Street and another on Bridge Street.

Both are part of the Church Shopping Centre. There is also a branch on Eccleston Street, Prescot.

Hays Travel opened a premises at Church Square Shopping Centre in July 2018.