SANTA’S elves and fairies at York city centre’s new grotto have been abused by foul-mouthed parents after the Christmas spirit turned sour.

Organiser Penny Ward said almost 2,000 families had turned up to the grotto in Exhibition Square with vouchers from the discount website Groupon, which said in an email to customers that there would be a train ride around the winter wonderland.

She said when they discovered there wasn’t one, and the queues were so long that their children couldn’t get in, some parents began swearing at staff, who are dressed as elves, fairies and a Christmas tree.

“One man even verbally threatened the lady who is dressed as a Christmas tree,” she said. “One of the elves was so upset that she has resigned. It was a complete nightmare. Children were crying and upset.”

Penny said most of the abusive parents had come down to York with their vouchers from Newcastle during last weekend’s St Nicholas Fair.

She said the grotto was only able to handle 40 children an hour, but staff had worked beyond their normal hours and without breaks to try to ensure children did not miss out.

She said she had initially been contacted by Groupon and agreed to use its services to help publicise the grotto, but she claimed she had never signed a contract and had not said there was a train ride. She thought the York grotto might have been mixed up with one she ran in Hull, where there was a train ride. The York grotto was generally proving a huge success.

Groupon said: “Owing to a technical error, we apologise that the picture and wording used in this promotion may have indicated that a train ride was available at York Winter Wonderland when this wasn’t the case. We regret any disappointment this may have caused.”

The organisation said it corrected the promotion immediately as soon as it discovered the error and had yesterday sent out a bulk e-mail clarifying what was included in the promotion for customers that were yet to redeem their vouchers.

“Although advanced booking is not essential, preferred time slots cannot be guaranteed without prior booking and are subject to availability. We hope that this hasn’t taken away from the Santa’s grotto experience and we wish everyone a happy holiday season.”

Groupon is an international organisation which uses collective buying power to offer huge discounts on things to do, eat, see and buy.