Two men who killed a British soldier on a London street in a "cowardly and callous murder" tried to behead their victim after they had deliberately run him over, a court was told.

Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, knocked down Lee Rigby as he crossed a street in Woolwich in southeast London on 22 May before attacking the unconscious soldier with a meat cleaver and knives.

Prosecutor Richard Whittman told the Old Bailey that Fusilier Rigby was repeatedly stabbed and "it appears it was Michael Adebolajo (who) made a serious and almost successful attempt to decapitate Lee Rigby with multiple blows to his neck made with the meat cleaver."

"They had committed a cowardly and callous murder by deliberately attacking an unarmed man in civilian clothes from behind, using a vehicle as a weapon," Mr Whittam added.

He said the car had been travelling at 55-60kp/h when the soldier was struck.

The court heard the pair wanted the killing to be as public as possible and dragged the soldier’s body into the middle of the road.

The jury was told of the bravery of passers-by, including one woman who stroked Fusilier Rigby's lifeless body and another who talked to Mr Adebolajo, despite his holding the cleaver and with his hands covered in blood.

The two men then tried to attack police who arrived on the scene, with Mr Adebolajo charging at them wielding the cleaver and Mr Adebowale aiming a revolver at officers, which later turned out to be unloaded.

Police shot the two men as Mr Adebolajo got very close to their vehicle, with the whole incident taking place with the public standing nearby and within yards of a junior school, Mr Whittam said.

The pair, who the court also heard used the Muslim names Mujahid Abu Hamza for Mr Adebolajo and Ismael Ibn Abdullah for Mr Adebowale, both deny the murder and with attempting to kill a police officer.

Jurors were told that both men have admitted possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence.

Mr Whittam told the court the defendants had been together for five hours before the attack and added "it was clear" there had been an agreement to attack the police when they arrived.

He said: "It was a joint attack; Michael Adebolajo got very close indeed to the driver's side of the police vehicle and had he not been shot it is difficult to think that he would not have succeeded in killing a police officer."

The trial is expected to last three weeks.